By Michael Strong
Well, we now know whom Villanova coach Jay Wright will go-to now that Saddiq Bey has been drafted by the Nets and traded to the Pistons.
That would be Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who followed up an 18-point performance in the season opener with a career-high 28 points last night to lead No. 3 Villanova over No. 18 Arizona State 83-74 in the championship game of the Empire Classic.
”He wanted to be in that role last year and he just wasn’t there yet,” Wright said. ”He did all the dirty work last year and he still does the dirty work. But, I think he has developed.”
The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward hit 11 of his 17 shots and pulled down eight rebounds.
Justin Moore added 16 points and 12 boards for the Wildcats (2-0), and Caleb Daniels chipped in with 14 points – 10 in the second half. Daniels spent the final eight minutes of the first half on the bench after picking up his third foul, but wasn’t whistled again.
The Wildcats dictated the pace of the game and dominated on the glass, outrebounding Arizona State 43-27.
Freshman guard Josh Christopher had 28 points and Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 22 for the Sun Devils (1-1). Villanova held ASU star Remy Martin to just five first-half points on 2-of-8 shooting.
The Wildcats led by nine at halftime and took their first double-digit lead at 49-38 on a 3-pointer by Robinson-Earl that capped an 8-0 spurt in the second half.
They stretched that to 66-49 on a 3 by Daniels before ASU made a little run.
The Sun Devils cut the deficit to 70-60 on a jumper by Verge, but couldn’t come all the way back.
The game, played as part of the 11-day ”Bubbleville” event in Connecticut, was close early. Villanova led just 31-29 after a 3-pointer by Martin.
But the Wildcats closed the first half on a 10-3 surge over the final 5 1/2 minutes to lead 41-32 at the break.
”We’re kind of a new team in a way with Saddiq leaving,” Robinson-Earl said. ”Guys from last year are getting new roles, so we’re just learning as we’re going.”