LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Villanova's men's basketball team passed its first real test of the AdvoCare Invitational – barely.
The Wildcats, facing a Florida State team fresh off an overtime victory over LSU, completed their run at ESPN's Wide World of Sports with a title, edging the 14th-ranked Seminoles, 66-60, on Sunday in the championship game.
The game was Villanova's first against a ranked opponent since falling out of the Associated Press poll. It was also the only game of the event in which the Wildcats didn't win by double digits.
"For us, as a young team, to battle like that, it really takes a couple of experienced guys who have played before to do it, it's a great victory for us," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I'm really proud of them. We've grown so much. We've said that about our team since the beginning. This whole season, we've got to have a growth mindset. We've just got to keep getting better."
The game came down to the wire, mostly because Villanova (5-2) had trouble hitting free throws in the second half. The Wildcats missed seven free throws in the second half.
"We missed some free throws down the stretch there," Wright said. "We could have lost that game. But even if we lost, you've got to feel like the effort defensively and battling them on the boards, you've got to feel good coming out of here with that."
Sophomore guard Collin Gillespie led 'Nova with 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting. He hit his first seven shots from the field and didn't miss a shot until the second half. On an afternoon when veteran leaders Eric Paschall and Phil Booth were relatively quiet, the Wildcats needed every point the guard could provide.
Gillespie hit two free throws with 11 seconds left to ice the game.
"He's just a killer," Wright said. "The kid's an assassin. He loves the competition. Whatever he needs to do, I'm just glad he's on our side."
Paschall and Booth finished the game with 15 and 12 points, respectively. Sophomore forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (11.6 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in the three-game event) was named MVP of the tournament.
"We just wanted to prove it to each other," Paschall said. "Just know that we'll have each other's backs out there. We have to get better every day. We had a lot of guys step up. [Cosby-Roundtree] had a heck of a tournament. Collin played big. Collin's a killer, and people don't see that in him. Joe [Cremo], Cole [Swider]… we just had a very together group. Everybody had a great attitude and we were willing to get better every game."
Villanova started quickly, racing out to a 10-2 lead behind strong shooting from Gillespie, and the Wildcats forced FSU coach Leonard Hamilton to burn an early timeout with 15:55 remaining in the first half.
The momentum shifted after that timeout. The Seminoles forced the Wildcats into long stretches with no points and multiple turnovers. 'Nova turned the ball over eight times in the first half, which led to 10 points for the Seminoles.
Villanova was outscored, 23-16, over the remainder of the first half, despite shooting 50 percent from the field. The Seminoles (5-1) held an 18-10 advantage in points in the paint over the first 20 minutes and grabbed eight offensive rebounds for 10 second-chance points.
The Wildcats continued their hot shooting in the second half. They shot 56 percent from the field in the second half. They also cleaned up their turnover problems and gave away the ball just four times.
Florida State finished the game with a 28-25 advantage on the boards. The Seminoles grabbed 13 offensive rebounds. Still, the Wildcats shot 53.5 percent from the field.
"We've got to get a lot better at handling the ball and executing our offense," Wright said. "We still can get better defensively. We got beat on the glass today. We've got to get a little bit better there. We have a lot of room to grow and I think our guys understand that."
Villanova returns to action at 3 p.m. Dec. 1 with a game at La Salle. The matchup features Wright coaching against former assistant Ashley Howard.