It might have been just Villanova’s second game of the season but the third-ranked Wildcats were close to midseason form with their defense Thursday night against No. 18 Arizona State, and it didn’t hurt that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl bettered his fine performance of the night before.
Robinson-Earl established a career high with 28 points and pulled down eight rebounds, and the Wildcats locked up Sun Devils All-America guard Remy Martin to capture the 2K Empire Classic championship with an 83-74 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
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Robinson-Earl, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Wildcats’ 76-67 win over Boston College on Wednesday night, connected on 11-of-17 shots from the field, including a pair of three-point baskets, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
The Wildcats (2-0) placed three other players in double figures: Justin Moore with 16 points and 12 rebounds, Caleb Daniels with 14 points, and Collin Gillespie with 11.
Defensively, Villanova slowed down Martin, a 6-foot senior and AP preseason all-America who scored 26 points in the Sun Devils’ opening-round win over Rhode Island. Martin managed just five points on 2-of-8 shooting and handed out a pair of assists.
The Wildcats outscored Arizona State, 10-3, in the final five minutes of the first half to take a 41-32 lead at the break. After giving up the first six points of the second half, the Cats ran off eight straight points – all by Moore and Robinson-Earl – to take the advantage for good at 49-38.
The Sun Devils never got closer than six the rest of the way. A 17-6 run capped by Daniels’ three-point basket gave Villanova its largest lead at 66-49 with just under 9 minutes left.
The Wildcats started the game with 6-foot-7 Jermaine Samuels guarding Martin, and Samuels’ teammates added their undivided attention on the lighting-quick guard, switching to guard him whenever necessary. Martin took just one shot in the game’s first 14½ minutes before hitting a three-pointer.
Defensively, the Wildcats really turned up the heat in the second half, giving the Sun Devils very few open shots, and fewer uncontested ones.
Lethargic on the boards in the first half of its game Wednesday, Villanova rebounded with more verve starting out Thursday, outrebounding the Sun Devils, 24-11, with nine offensive rebounds. The Cats ended the game with a 43-27 advantage and limited Arizona State to just three points off four offensive boards.
Freshman Josh Christopher led ASU with 28 points.
Villanova coach Jay Wright, on limiting Martin: “We had different people on him the entire night. He’s such an explosive scorer. We didn’t just want to just have one guy on him, we had a lot of different guys. We switched a number of guys on him. We wanted to keep fresh bodies on him. It was a team effort. Everybody was locating him and they did a good job together.”
Wright on Robinson-Earl: “It’s really nice when you see a young guy practice really well, and then it works out for him in the game. He’s been playing like that this fall, but you never know when game time hits what’s going to happen. I was really happy for him because he’s played like that all fall.”