By Ken Cross
Trailing Tennessee 46-34 at halftime of the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals on Thursday, Villanova guard Jalen Brunson took it upon himself to personally build a fire and a fervor that spread throughout the other Wildcats and willed them to that 85-76 win and into the finals against Northern Iowa.
Friday, he was more methodical in the 64-50 tournament clincher over Northern Iowa. He scored seven points in the first 10 minutes as he paced the Wildcats to a 19-13 lead over the Panthers and he helped kick start the second half with a key three some 3;14 into the half. It was the first points of the half actually and he knew he needed to kick-start his team against a certainly capable Northern Iowa squad.
“One thing I learned about this team here is that we don’t quit,” Brunson stated in the postgame presser, “We strive to play hard for 40 minutes. In the preseason, we had our struggles. But we kept getting better and better.”
Villanova, most people’s preseason pick in what is a deep Big East, pushed through a 66-58 win over Western Kentucky in the opening game. The key for him is his physical stature on the perimeter that eventually took it’s toll on the Hilltoppers’ guards.
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) November 25, 2017
In addition is a tremendous basketball IQ that allows him to know when to get his teammates involved. Mikhail Bridges and Donte Divincenzo benefitted from this as well. This proved again the Brunson knows how to accentuate Jay Wright’s system as that makes ‘Nova a much tougher matchup.
“The reason you are able to win five of these is by having good players who are intelligent,” said Wright, “These guys, and the guys we have had over the years, are really good basketball players. They know this is an opportunity to play great competition and take it very seriously.”
The Battle 4 Atlantis Crown was the fifth in a row for Villanova as the Wildcats won the 2013 title in the Bahamas which started the five year run.
“We really got tested at this tournament,” said Brunson, the tournament’s MVP, “We kept battling back, kept grinding, kept sticking together no matter what the fatigue was or what the score was.”
The Wildcats get involved in Big Five play in Philadelphia this week as they host Penn on Wednesday before traveling to St. Joseph’s next Saturday.