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Villanova dismantles Tennessee, 71-53

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NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Tennessee Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee went north today and got absolutely clobbered by No. 5 Villanova. Jay Wright’s veteran team was the clear-cut better group from the opening tip this afternoon, going on a run to start the game and never looking back.

It was a painfully slow start for Tennessee, as the Vols opened the game 0-8 from the floor. Tennessee found several open looks, but nothing fell in the opening six minutes of the game. Villanova was able to connect on a few shots, establishing a quick 9-0 lead.

Finally, Santiago Vescovi drained a three to get the Volunteers on the board.

Standout freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler picked up two quick fouls, which forced him to the bench midway through the first half. That meant Tennessee was missing its sparkplug, and it showed early on.

The role of creator was passed on to Vescovi, but the Villanova defense was proving difficult to beat. A 1-6 start from Vescovi didn’t help matters, as Tennessee seemed like they were just trying to tread water until Chandler could return.

It got uglier. The Tennessee offense was completely lost, frankly looking a whole lot like last year’s team. There was no motion, no penetration without Chandler on the floor, just a bunch of passing around the horn and a forced shot late in the shot clock. None of the shots were falling, either.

Villanova wasn’t having any trouble. A balanced offensive attack pushed them out to a 20 point first half lead. It was a 35-15 advantage for ‘Nova at the halftime break. It was the fewest points in a half for Tennessee since 1997.

Tennessee shot 1-11 from three point range and 23 percent from the field. Olivier Nkamhoua had zero points and zero shots. John Fulkerson had only four points, as Tennessee was bullied down low in the post. Chandler finished the first half with zero points in just a handful of minutes. Vescovi was the only aggressor for Tennessee, and even he was off, shooting just 1-7 from three point range.

Making everything worse? 14 first half turnovers for Tennessee. It was a half of basketball that just needed to be flushed.

Chandler came out in the second half and tried to make up for lost time. Two quick buckets plus an assist on a three to Vescovi at least had the Vols showing a pulse again, still down 15 points. But he needed some help. Josiah-Jordan James didn’t have his outside stroke today, starting 0-4 from deep. Tennessee still had nothing in the post, as ‘Nova was still too strong.

Back to back three-pointers from Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels jolted the Wildcats to their biggest lead of the day — 22 points with ten minutes left to play.

Vescovi, despite a cold start, did his best to keep things respectable. He hit a three, converted an and-one opportunity, and then found a steal and a layup to score eight straight points.

That sequence was probably the bright spot of the day for Tennessee.

The Volunteers just flat ran into a better team today. Villanova’s experience and balance was evident from the start, and Tennessee just couldn’t make a shot. That’s a bad combination.

Tennessee ended up shooting 5-28 from three. Open looks were there, but none seemed to fall. The absence of Chandler in the first half was less than ideal, and then frankly ‘Nova just overpowered the Vols in the paint.

It’s the first taste of adversity for these Vols, who now must get up off the mat quickly to face either Purdue or North Carolina tomorrow.

Update: Tennessee will face North Carolina at 3:30 p.m. ET