Dec. 1, 2013
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas - James Bell has developed a penchant for sinking big baskets over the course of his four seasons at Villanova. On Saturday night, he drained them in rapid succession to spur a comeback that lifted VU to an 88-83 overtime victory over No. 23 Iowa (7-1 overall) in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Bell ended the night with 20 points, nine rebounds and two blocked shots in 40 minutes of activity. None were more critical than three consecutive 3-pointers in 1:12 during the second half that shaved Iowa's lead from a dozen to three. For that and his earlier efforts in wins over No. 2 Kansas and USC, Bell was named the tournament most valuable player.
"We've had him for four years and he's hit so many big shots," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "What I really admire about him is his self-esteem. You can tell a player's self-esteem by his willingness to take big shots when things aren't going well. Last night, he made two huge shots and came up with the rebound to win the game.
"Tonight, he's missing shots and we can't score. He takes it on his shoulders and makes big shot after big shot and gets us back into the game. It's more a testament to his character than it is to his basketball ability."
Villanova improves to 7-0 on the season and claims its first in-season tourney title since 2009.
"Obviously that was a thrill for us," stated Wright. "That was a great game. That's a (heck) of a team. They run great offense. When they needed to get shots they got shots for the right guys. It was hard for us to guard them.
"We just hit huge shots."
Indeed, 14 of Villanova's 27 made goals over the 45 minutes of play were 3-pointers. Bell and sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono both connected on four, including a series of them in a second half that brought them back from a deficit that had swelled to 15 midway through the first 20 minutes.
Bell shouldered the heaviest load. Villanova found itself staring up at a 55-43 deficit after the Hawkeyes' Zach McCabe dropped in a 3-pointer with 13:54 left to play in the second half. But nine quick points from Bell changed the complexion of the contest. Suddenly, VU was down 55-52 and from that point on the pace was frantic, with both teams trading surges to the wire.
Arcidiacono joined the fun when he poured in a triple with 7:26 in the period to shave the gap to 57-55. Freshman Kris Jenkins - who contributed a season-high 12 points - dropped in two free throws to knot matters at 57. VU increased the lead to 64-57 before an 8-0 run keyed by Roy Devyn Marble (24 points) gave the Hawkeyes back the lead at 65-64 with 2:59 left.
On two separate occasions, Arcidiacono drilled critical triples. The latter of those came with 48 seconds on the clock and gave VU back the lead at 72-71. Marble sank one of two free throws after being fouled with 27 seconds left, giving the `Cats the final possession. Freshman Josh Hart, who played a season-high 34 minutes and scored 14 points, had a great look at a three that caromed off the rim as the horn sounded.
Iowa jumped out to a quick 75-72 edge in the extra session but Jenkins connected on a three to knot matters at 75. Sophomore Dylan Ennis followed with another to put the Wildcats back into the lead. They held it the rest of the way and walked away with the tournament trophy.
"As a coach, you've just got to sit back and watch how they're going to respond," noted Wright. "You hope they respond the way that they did. That was really impressive to me. They have to make the plays. They just keep a great attitude - they never get down. They're a group that really trusts each other and trusts what we do. It's a really enjoyable group to coach."
Hart and Jenkins made a critical impact on the game too.
"Those two were just playing so well," said Wright. "We could tell at the start of the game that our guys were worn out. The turnovers we had at the beginning of the game were just ridiculous. You have to give Iowa credit - they've got great length and good defensive schemes. But we could just see (our) guys just didn't have it.
"We knew the freshmen were going to have to play. They did and Tony Chennault gave us great minutes. Dylan Ennis gave us great minutes. That's probably what we learned the most about our team here - we've got great depth. Kris Jenkins hit huge shots and made big plays."
The Wildcats are slated to return home to the Pavilion on Wednesday night for the first Philadelphia Big Five contest of 2013-14. Penn visits the Wildcats for a contest that is scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. (Fox Sports 1).