Men’s Basketball’s Comeback Bid Falls Short Against Michigan State


Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Eric Dixon (above) scored a game-high 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

Jacob Artz, Staff Writer

Villanova’s trip to East Lansing to take on Michigan State started with snow outside.

The result seemed clear for much of the game with the Spartans raining down three-pointers, but like the blurriness of a snowstorm, the game’s conclusion was unclear until the final red lights appeared behind the backboard.

The Wildcats created a frenzy in the second half, but came up two points short in a 73-71 loss to the Spartans Friday night at the Breslin Center in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.

With 7.1 seconds left and the Wildcats down two points, senior guard Chris Arcidiacono in-bounded the ball from the right sideline behind the three-point line. The play was designed to pass the ball to graduate guard Caleb Daniels, and after Daniels drove himself into a corner with two Spartan defenders draped on him, he was forced to flip the basketball to redshirt junior forward Eric Dixon.

Dixon, who had a wonderful scoring night with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting and a perfect 3-for-3 from the line, could not find the bottom of the net on a deep and contested three, sealing the Spartans’ win.

“They made some timely shots, came out in the second half, went down again,” Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune said. “I’m really, really proud of the way our guys just grinded and kept coming.” 

When asked about the design of the final play, Neptune said it was “a play to score.”

Graduate forward Brandon Slater chipped in 16 points with 5-of-9 shooting and a perfect 5-for-5 from the line. Daniels struggled his way to 13 points with a poor 4-of-14 from the field, 1-for-8 from three and only 4-for-7 from the stripe.

A spark came from an unlikely source in the second half in Arcidiacono. When Villanova came out of the halftime locker room, Arcidiacono showed aggression that has been seldom seen with a drive to the bucket, earning a foul. He made both free throws.

Arcidiacono’s defense proved to be a difference maker in the second half. After a rough showing in the first half with late closeouts, he drew charges at the 15:34 mark and at the 6:01 mark. Later in the second half, he set up a layup by Slater at the 3:30 mark on a nice bounce pass through traffic.

At the 16:08 remaining, he made a three-pointer off of wonderful ball movement. Arcidiacono registered six points with four assists. 

Despite these key plays, the Spartans ignited too much offense. They shot 13-for-25 from three and 28-for-54 (51.9%) overall. 

Guard Tyson Walker led the Spartans with 22 points, going 9-for-14 from the field and converting 3-of-6 from deep. Former Marquette forward Joey Hauser followed up his 23 point performance against Kentucky with 13 points, 5-of-7 overall and 3-for-4 from downtown. Guard A.J. Hoggard almost posted a triple-double with 13 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Forward Malik Hall added 12 points.

‘Their team is just extremely disciplined,” Neptune said. “You could tell, like every little thing they have covered and do exactly what we’re looking to do a lot of ways that we’re trying to accomplish offensively.”

Neptune also touched on Hoggard’s stellar play.

“He’s talented,” Neptune said. “He’s tough. He’s nasty. He’s a great leader. He’s intelligent.”

Michigan State only attempted six free throws, but it did not need to get to the line much because the three point shot was available early and often. Villanova’s defense always seemed a step behind in its rotations and continually left Michigan State’s shooters with uncontested or easy looks from three.

Villanova’s struggles from three continue to be a major issue. It only made 2-of-7 threes against Temple and missed its first 17 threes against Delaware State. The second half three-point shooting was respectable, with the ‘Cats making six out of 16 threes (37.5%), but overall, they only made 27.6% of their threes, going 8-for-29.

The Wildcats converted a mere 2-of-13 shots from downtown in the first half, good for a 15.4 percent clip, including missing their last five. The most obvious struggler was Daniels. In the first half, he only made one of his nine field goals and did not make any of his five three-point attempts.

In the first half, Dixon was the only positive for the Wildcats, recording half of the ‘Cats first half points with 12 and going 5-for-7 from the field. Dixon opened the scoring with a lay-in, and made a three pointer from the left wing with 9:37 left before the half and with six seconds left in the first half, Dixon converted a dunk by blowing by the defender.

“He’s a warrior,” Neptune said of Dixon. “He’s a warrior. I mean, we’ve always said that we knew when we recruited him and watched him way back in high school that he’s one of the best scorers we saw for a while, and he just had a knack for scoring.”

Michigan State dominated from behind the arc in the first half, converting 8-of-14 (57.1%) three pointers with Villanova’s defense constantly attempting to recover with the Michigan State quick ball and man movement. From the field overall in the first half, the Spartans made 13-of-27 field goals (48.1%).

At the 8:30 mark with the score tied at 16, Michigan State went on a 16-8 run to give it a 34-24 first half lead.

The Spartans did not attempt a free throw in the first half.

Next up for the Wildcats is a trip to the loaded PK85 Invitational in Portland, Oregon with many top teams playing for the title. Villanova will play Iowa State in the first round, with tip-off slated for 3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The game can be watched on ESPN2.