Villanova muscles past Mississippi State to advance to Myrtle Beach Invitational title game

CONWAY, S.C., November 22, 2019 – The calendar says 2019, but Villanova coach Jay Wright said it felt more like 1989 when his Wildcats took on Mississippi State in Friday’s second round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

“That was an old-school, Big East Conference game,” Wright said with a smile following Villanova’s hard-fought 83-76 victory over the Bulldogs. “There aren’t many games like that anymore. Teams don’t play like that anymore.”

Wright was referring to the bruising battle that took place between two teams that combined have 14 players 6-foot-8 or taller, with 10 of them topping 230 pounds. The result was a physical back-and-forth contest punctuated by bursts of athleticism and several key 3-pointers.

In the end, the Wildcats (4-1) outlasted MSU (5-1) on the strength of 22 points and seven rebounds from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and 18 points and nine assists from Collin Gillespie to advance to Sunday’s tournament championship game.

“Both teams played really well and extremely hard,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “I’m proud of our effort. The way we fought and kept battling through some of their runs to give ourselves a chance really gives me a lot of confidence in our team moving forward.”

The Wildcats scored 16 unanswered points to take a 34-22 lead in the first half, and they maintained the lead the rest of the way. But the Bulldogs were never far behind, answering every Villanova run with a counter-run of their own. In fact, MSU trailed only 77-74 with still a minute to play, but missed two 3-pointers down the stretch.

“That was a really good college basketball game,” Wright said. “I would like to say I enjoy competing against Ben’s teams, but I don’t because they’re so tough and physical and solid. They go to the offensive glass, they defend, they’re tough to score on. So that was a really good win for us.”

Tyson Carter led the Bulldogs with 22 points, and Reggie Perry had 18 points and 10 rebounds. But Mississippi State never could come up with a key stop when needed, as the Wildcats sank 58.5 percent of their shots and went 10-for-24 from 3-point range.

“They made some tough shots,” Howland said. “They hit some 3s where our guys were right on them, and they were still electing to pull up and make shots. You just have to give them a lot of credit.”

Tulane 86, Middle Tennessee 74: Tulane withstood a second-half rally by Middle Tennessee to pick up the Green Wave’s fourth victory of the young season, equaling the team’s win total for all of last season.

Tulane (4-1) led by 17 at halftime, increased its advantage to 24 early in the second half and was still ahead by 20 at 69-49 with less than nine minutes left. The Blue Raiders (3-3) then went on a 16-5 run to close the gap to 74-65, but Tulane held on by making 10-of-11 foul shots in the final five minutes.

“I always talk to the guys about the process of winning, and when we got up 24 we started to relax. In this business you just can’t do that,” said first-year Tulane head coach Ron Hunter, who took over a team that went 4-27 last season. “Everything we do is just so new. This group is still learning how to win.”

Because of injuries and youth, the Blue Raiders are going through an early-season learning process as well. Middle Tennessee Coach Nick McDevitt said while he was pleased with his players’ determination in making the comeback, he was disappointed with his team’s defensive performance.

“We weren’t able to defend the 3-point line well enough to force contested 3s (Tulane was 12-of-24 from long range), and when we did we were fouling on the drive,” McDevitt said.

Tulane guard Christion Thompson, a graduate transfer from Rhode Island, had a game-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting. C.J. Jones led the way for Middle Tennessee with 20 points, while Donovan Sims added 11 points and nine assists.