NEW YORK (AP) — Trevor Releford and Alabama passed an early test with ease in a championship-game blowout.
Releford hit all five of his 3-point shots and scored 25 points as the Crimson Tide beat Villanova 77-55 on Friday night, running away in the second half to win the 2K Sports Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I thought we came out tonight for 40 minutes and really did a good job,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “Our style of play defensively, I thought it was a great effort. You look at the numbers from a defensive standpoint, I felt like it was a pretty dominating performance by our guys.”
Rodney Cooper had 17 points and the Crimson Tide (4-0) broke it open with some sharp 3-point shooting. Alabama, which made only 22 of 61 attempts (36 percent) from long range in its first three games, went 9 for 15 beyond the arc (60 percent) against a Villanova team that had held opponents to 33 percent on 3s.
“I’m not surprised,” Cooper said when asked about his team’s fast start. “In practice every day we try to challenge each other, so I’m not surprised at all.”
JayVaughn Pinkston had 17 points to lead the Wildcats (3-1) and was selected to the all-tournament team in his return home to New York. Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono scored 11 for Villanova, which shot a miserable 32 percent from the field.
“It wasn’t really a disappointment, it was just a learning experience for us,” Pinkston said. “We learned tonight that we’ve just got to play more together and play Villanova basketball rather than one-on-one.”
After leading by three at halftime, Alabama briefly fell behind and then took control for good with a 19-4 spurt early in the second half.
Cooper got it started with eight quick points in a 3:06 span, including a 3-pointer and a three-point play. Releford, who finished 8 for 10 from the floor and 4 of 5 at the foul line, had a fast-break layup to put the Crimson Tide ahead 45-35 with 11:35 to go.
Cooper added another 3-pointer 23 seconds later and his layup made it a 15-point cushion with 8:16 remaining, prompting Villanova coach Jay Wright to call a timeout.
It was too late.
After the Wildcats cut it to 52-41, Releford scored eight straight points and flashed a quick grin when his second 3 in a row made it a 19-point bulge with 5:09 remaining. The Crimson Tide shot 64 percent in the second half to finish at 57 percent for the game.
“I hope Alabama is a great team. I think they’re a lot better than us right now,” Wright said. “I just thought they were outstanding. Just very disciplined, very well-coached, very physical and solid. Especially offensively, I thought they really, really were intelligent offensively. Just a very, very good team.”
Both coaches emptied their benches in the final seconds, giving little-used players and walk-ons a chance to play at Madison Square Garden.
After the final horn, Alabama players gathered for team pictures with the shiny trophy at center court. Releford, who scored 14 points against Oregon State in the semifinals, was chosen tournament MVP. Cooper also made the all-tournament team.
“This tournament was great for us because we had some challenges here,” Grant said. “We learned some lessons every game and have been able to take something from it. I am proud that our guys have been willing to do that understand we are not where we want to be and we are hoping to be better.”
Alabama, which held off the Beavers 65-62 Thursday night on Cooper’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left, had a much easier time in the title game.
The Crimson Tide outscored Villanova 32-16 in the paint, poured in 23 points off 14 Wildcats turnovers and had a 37-27 advantage on the boards.
“These guys, man, these guys were good. These guys were really athletic, really strong and they attacked the glass,” Wright said.
Villanova beat Purdue 89-81 in the semifinals after overcoming an eight-point deficit with 1:27 remaining in regulation, but there was no comeback this time.
“I think we have potential to be a good team. We are definitely a work in progress. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Wright said. “We could have lost last night’s game very easily.”
The lead changed hands seven times in the first half. Alabama went on a 10-0 run to go up 18-12 and led 29-26 at the break after shooting 50 percent from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
The Crimson Tide also had a 19-10 edge on the glass and held Villanova to 30 percent shooting (6 for 20).
Alabama first found its shooting touch in the second half of the semifinal. The Crimson Tide finished 7 for 21 from 3-point range against Oregon State after opening 2 of 10 in the first half.
“Really proud of the effort of our guys and the growth of our team,” Grant said.
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