By Harvey Hoffman
Jermaine Samuels had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Collin Gillespie chipped in 14 points and No. 5 Villanova defeated No. 17 Tennessee 71-53 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic.
The Wildcats (3-1) will play the winner of No. 6 Purdue-No. 18 North Carolina later Saturday in the title game on Sunday.
Brandon Slater also had 14 points for Villanova, which has won two straight since an 86-77 overtime loss at No. 2 UCLA. Justin Moore contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee (2-1) with a career-high tying 23 points. The Volunteers shot just 5 of 28 (17.9 percent) from 3-point range to go along with 18 turnovers.
Thanks in large part to some suffocating defense, Villanova opened to a 19-9 lead with 7:39 remaining in the first half.
On Tennessee’s next possession, Zakai Zeigler drove to the basket and scored with a difficult layup while falling to the floor.
Samuels threw down a dunk to give the Wildcats a 27-11 lead with 5:08 left. Samuels came back with a 15-foot jumper, Slater hit two free throws and Samuels threw down an alley-oop dunk to cap a 14-0 run for a 33-11 advantage.
The Wildcats led 35-15 at halftime.
Tennessee managed just 15 points against 14 turnovers in the opening half. The Volunteers shot 5 of 22 in the first half and 19 of 57 (33.3 percent) for the game.
Despite plenty of open looks, Tennessee struggled to chip away at the deficit and still trailed 39-24 with 13:22 left.
Chris Arcidiacono added a 3-pointer from the wing to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 42-24. Caleb Daniels and Moore each made a 3-pointer and the Villanova lead ballooned to 48-26 with 10:20 to go.
Vescovi’s 3-pointer got the Volunteers within 19 at 51-32 with 8:32 remaining. A Samuels 3-poniter with 8:50 remaining gave Villanova a 51-29 advantage.
Vescovi came back with five straight points and the Tennessee deficit was 17 with 8:17 to go.