PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Fifth-ranked Villanova failed to speed up Western Kentucky’s controlled tempo and struggled to make shots through the first half of its Battle 4 Atlantis debut.
In the second half, the Wildcats looked far more like the high-scoring bunch that had cracked 100 points in each of their past two games.
Jalen Brunson scored 18 points while Villanova finally got loose in transition after halftime, helping the Wildcats beat the Hilltoppers 66-58 in Wednesday’s opening round.
The Wildcats (4-0) found themselves in a close game until early in the second half. That’s when they ran off a 13-2 burst to push ahead by double figures, part of a hot-shooting stretch that had them picking up the pace and scoring off turnovers.
“They usually play a little faster than that, but I think they were smart knowing they’ve got three days here,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “They controlled the tempo. … Offensively they had us out of whack, and I think that had a lot to do with our poor shooting in the first half.”
Villanova didn’t get many easy scores in the first half and had just two fast-break points by the break, but had 14 in the second half while also scoring 16 of their 23 points off turnovers.
Villanova made 15 of 24 shots (63 percent) after halftime after shooting just 33 percent to lead 27-24 at the break. The Wildcats ultimately led by 18 points late.
“They find ways to have spurts and make runs,” Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury said. “And they were able to find a way to spurt out the second half a little bit on some turnovers.”
Darius Thompson scored 16 points for the Hilltoppers (2-2), who shot 44 percent but struggled to maintain control with Villanova converting easy baskets off turnovers in the second half.
“I think our turnovers were kind of self-inflicted,” Thompson said. “Just trying to do a little too much in the wrong times.”
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers kept Villanova close through the first half and trailed just 34-33 early in the second. Still, the Hilltoppers fell to 1-13 in their last 14 games against ranked opponents.
“I’m really proud of our team’s effort,” Stansbury said, “but I think it’s the way we kind of let the game get away from us in the second half that I’m most disappointed with.”
Villanova: The Wildcats came in putting up big offensive numbers, including 113 points against Nicholls State and 104 more against Lafayette in their last two games. They didn’t find that same roll here, though they ultimately built a big lead and cruised to the final horn.
“We still have to get a lot better,” Brunson said. “We’re still a work in progress.”
Brunson is a preseason Associated Press All-American, but Mikal Bridges is leading Villanova in scoring. The junior guard had set career scoring highs with 23 points against Nicholls and then 24 against Lafayette, and he followed with 17 points and eight rebounds in this one.
Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for Villanova off the bench. He finished a tough layup through contact for a three-point play at the 5:11 mark.
DiVincenzo has scored in double figures in three of four games this season.
“He’s really an unselfish guy,” Wright said. “We really have six starters, you can tell by the minutes. And he’s a guy that just said, ‘I don’t care, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’
“And he comes in off the bench and he’s incredible, and brings great energy. He was awesome in the second half.”
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will face No. 18 Purdue in Thursday’s consolation bracket.
Villanova: The Wildcats advanced to play Tennessee on Thursday.