No. 17 Tennessee tries to build on early success vs. No. 5 Villanova

NCAA Men's Basketball

Villanova will continue its difficult early season schedule with a battle against No. 17 Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament on Saturday in Uncasville, CT.

The No. 5-ranked Wildcats (2-1) will face either North Carolina or Purdue on Sunday.

Villanova fell 86-77 in overtime at No. 2 UCLA and then received a surprisingly tough matchup against Howard before pulling away late for a 100-81 win on Tuesday.

These next two games in this mini tournament will keep challenging Villanova.

“We get an experience from every game,” said Brandon Slater, who scored a career-high 23 points against the Bison. “Our next game is our biggest game.”

Collin Gillespie added 21 points and Justin Moore had 16 for the Wildcats in the win over Howard.

During the loss to the Bruins, Villanova went through a scoring drought late in the second half. Villanova’s defense struggled against Howard, especially on the perimeter at times. The Bison shot 57 percent from the field.

“I didn’t think we were that bad defensively,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “We were there on a lot of the threes. They just stuck them. They hit some twos.”

While the Wildcats appear to have a solid shot at winning a third national championship since 2016, there’s a long way to go before the NCAA Tournament begins.

“That’s where we are,” Wright said. “I think we can be a good team, but we still have work to do.”

“We just have to stick to our habits,” forward Eric Dixon added.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has yet to be tested in two easy victories.

The Volunteers (2-0) defeated Tennessee-Martin, 90-62, to open their season and East Tennessee State, 94-62, last Sunday.

This will be a huge weekend for the Volunteers to gauge if they’re truly a Top 25 program.

“Well, I think players and coaches, we all like big games,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “I have always said in non-league, the only way you can win big games is you have to play them. I think I still get excited about games.

“I’m excited about practice because we want to put our guys in situations, different situations where they are going to be in this weekend. I think we all are looking forward to it.”

In the win over East Tennessee State, Olivier Nkamhoua led the Volunteers with a career-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds. Kennedy Chandler added 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals.

Nkamhoua’s progress has been especially noticeable to Barnes.

“He’s certainly put his work in. He continues to do that,” Barnes said. “I’ve said it before, as the season goes on, people start game-planning, doing different things. He’ll see some different defenses come at him. He’ll have to adjust to that as it goes on. But I would tell you the same thing I told him after the game, I don’t want him to get complacent.

“I want to see him continue to do what he’s done up to this point to get better. And realize it’s not going to be the same game every night when he goes out.”

–Field Level Media

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