NEW YORK -Scotty Hopson scored 18 points to lead No. 24 Tennessee to a 78-68 victory over No. 7 Villanova on Friday in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
Senior point guard Melvin Goins was the key late for the Volunteers (5-0), scoring seven of his nine points and coming up with two big steals in the final 2:17.
He also did an outstanding defensive job on Corey Fisher of the Wildcats (5-1), who finished with three points on 1-of-10 shooting from the field. In an 82-70 semifinal win over UCLA, Fisher had a career-high 26 points and was 14 of 15 from the free throw line. He only made it to the line once against Tennessee, going 1 of 2.
Tennessee took the lead for good on a rebound basket by Hopson with 11:52 to play. Villanova was never able to get any kind of a run going as its three-guard offense couldn’t get going against the Volunteers.
The Wildcats closed within 56-55 on a basket by Dominic Cheek with 7:26 to play. The Volunteers went on a 7-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Cameron Tatum with 5:35 left.
The closest Villanova could get the rest of the way was five points. Hopson, the tournament MVP, scored on a drive to make it a seven-point game and Goins then stole the ball from Maalik Wayns and went in for a breakaway layup.
When Corey Stokes hit a 3 to get Villanova within 71-65, Goins made two free throws, then stole the ball again and was fouled before adding another two foul shots.
Tatum had 17 points for the Volunteers while freshman Tobias Harris had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Mouphtaou Yarou led the Wildcats with 15 points, Antonio Pena had 14, and Wayns and Stokes both added 11. Villanova finished 4 of 21 from 3-point range with Stokes’ 3 of 8 the best effort.
Tennessee had a 10-point lead in the first half and led 35-30 at halftime. The Wildcats opened the second half with a 9-2 run to take their first lead of the game.