Villanova completed a turnaround season with a turnaround game Wednesday night.
The Wildcats, 8-19 last season, won the National Invitation Tournament championship, 80-73, at Madison Square Garden by overcoming a 15-point halftime deficit.
It’s Steve Lappas’ team now and its record is 20-12.
“Last year, it was like ‘Let’s just get this season over with.’ This year, it was like ‘Let’s do something,’ ” said Jonathan Haynes, whose three-pointer with 3:22 to play gave Villanova the lead for good.
It was a poised performance from a team made up primarily of sophomores and freshmen, and it even surprised Lappas, a second-year coach who took over the program when Rollie Massimino left for Nevada Las Vegas.
“These guys have been messing me up all year,” Lappas said. “Despite their age, they respond under adverse conditions. Being young is one thing, but being composed is another. These guys surprised even me.”
The Wildcats’ composure beat Vanderbilt (20-12), which led, 41-26, at halftime.
In the second half, Villanova opened with a 30-16 run in the first 10:50 to draw within one point, then won despite the outside shooting of Vanderbilt’s Frank Seckar, a junior who finished with a career-high 30 points.
“We had a good first half; they had a good second half. They’re a hungry team,” Vanderbilt Coach Jan van Breda Kolff said.
Haynes scored 19 points, Kerry Kittles had 18 and Eric Eberz 16 for Villanova, which became the 15th school to win both an NCAA and NIT championship and finished its first 20-victory season since 1987-88.
In the consolation game, Doremus Bennerman scored 51 points, the last 19 from the free-throw line, as Siena (25-8) was a 92-79 winner over Kansas State (20-14).