No. 17 Villanova will look to advance to the championship game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational when it battles Mississippi State on Friday afternoon in Conway, S.C.
The Wildcats (3-1) moved into the semifinals with a 98-69 rout of Middle Tennessee State on Thursday, while the Bulldogs (5-0) cruised to an 80-66 victory over Tulane.
Villanova received a career-high 26 points from Cole Swider, 16 from Collin Gillespie and 15 from freshman Justin Moore. They also received a huge boost from freshman Bryan Antoine, who scored nine points in his collegiate debut.
Antoine, a McDonald’s All-American, had right shoulder surgery on May 31.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Antoine told Inquirer.com. “I was actually wearing the jersey, going up and down, playing with the guys. I just wanted to play hard. But I knew I had to do something nice.”
The Wildcats knocked down 18 3-pointers, and Swider was 6 of 11.
Villanova is attempting to win a preseason tournament title for the seventh straight season, which is a rather remarkable streak.
“We talk about it with the players, but we never talk about winning,” said Wildcats coach Jay Wright. “These three games are valuable each time. You’re on the road. You get to be together. I love that.”
Gillespie scored Villanova’s first eight points against the Blue Raiders and has started to look more comfortable since he stopped wearing a face mask to protect a broken nose.
“Collin’s had a real tough preseason, so to see him get off like that to start the game was important for our team,” Wright said.
Mississippi State has opened the season with wins over Florida International, Sam Houston State, Louisiana Monroe, New Orleans and Tulane. This matchup will be the most challenging to date.
The Bulldogs will come into this game with positive momentum after a strong 14-point win over the Green Wave in which they shot 55 percent (11 of 20) from 3-point land.
Tyson Carter had 16 points and 11 rebounds and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career. Carter is the 40th player in program history to accomplish the feat.
In addition, Iverson Molinar scored a career-high 21 points, and Reggie Perry added 18. Molinar and Perry combined to shoot 13 of 16.
A staple of head coach Ben Howland’s teams has always been defense, and the Bulldogs limited Tulane to 39 percent shooting.
“It just lets us know that we can take teams out of their offense,” Carter said. “Sometimes, even if our offense is struggling, we can still stop the other team and come out with a win.”
The 69 points given up to Florida International were the most in any of Mississippi State’s five games thus far. Its defense will need to slow down Villanova’s offense, which scored 53 points in the first half against Middle Tennessee State.
“If you go back and look at the teams I had at Pitt and UCLA that were really successful, it started at the defensive end of the floor,” Howland said. “That’s what you can control most night in and night out.”
–Field Level Media