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Jalen Brunson, Villanova Sneak Past Texas Tech, Advance to Final Four

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2018

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 25: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats is defended by Jarrett Culver #23 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the first half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at TD Garden on March 25, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

For the second time in three years, the Villanova Wildcats are headed to the Final Four.

On Sunday, the East Regional's No. 1 seed slowed down the No. 3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders and punched its ticket to San Antonio with a 71-59 win at TD Garden in Boston.

The Wildcats will meet the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks or No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils in the national semifinals after playing their finest defensive game of the tournament.

While it's renowned for its well-oiled offense, Nova turned up the intensity on the other end, clamping down on a team that was coming off a 78-point showing versus No. 2 seed Purdue in the Sweet 16.

The Red Raiders shot 33.3 percent from the field, and they generally bled time while looking for clean looks that proved few and far between.

Keenan Evans—who entered the Elite Eight averaging 20.3 points per game in the NCAA tournament—was especially quiet against Villanova's collection of dextrous wings. The senior guard finished with 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, including 0-of-4 from three, and as ESPN's Fran Fraschilla observed, he didn't appear to be operating at full strength:

Fran Fraschilla @franfraschilla

We’re not watching the Keenan Evans pre-injury. Limited explosiveness but it’s obvious he’s playing through serious toe issues. Have to love his heart.

The Wildcats also shot 33.3 percent from the field and were 4-of-24 from three. But they were more aggressive in getting to the rim and drawing contact—a strategy that allowed them to outscore the Red Raiders 29-14 at the free-throw line.

Had it not been for that edge and a 50-28 rebounding advantage, Villanova would have been in serious trouble.

Jalen Brunson (15 points, six rebounds, four assists), Mikal Bridges (12 points, five rebounds) and Donte DiVincenzo (12 points, eight rebounds) shot a combined 1-of-15 from deep, and forward Omari Spellman (11 points, six rebounds) was largely silenced in the second half because of foul trouble.

But thanks to stout defense, a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double by junior forward Eric Paschall and late conversions at the charity stripe, the Wildcats will make a return trip to Texas with another national championship in their sights two years after they hoisted the hardware in Houston.

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