Villanova Falls to Liberty in First Round of NIT, 62-57


Courtesy of Villanova Athletics

Sophomore forward Jordan Longino finished with eight points.

Owen Hewitt, Co-Sports Editor

Villanova lost its first-round NIT matchup to three-seed Liberty Tuesday night at Liberty Arena, 62-57. The loss, which drops the ‘Cats to 17-17 on the year, eliminates the team from the NIT and concludes the 2022-23 season. 

The ‘Cats were led by graduate forward Brandon Slater, who finished his final game in the blue and white with 18 points on 8-13 shooting. Slater also pulled down nine rebounds. Graduate guard Caleb Daniels also played his final collegiate game, and posted four points on 2-15 shooting, including going 0-9 from three. Redshirt junior forward Eric Dixon finished with a 12-point 13-rebound double-double effort. Freshman guard Mark Armstrong also reached double figures in his first start since the early part of the season, finishing with 12 points. 

“Mark is dynamic,” noted head coach Kyle Neptune. “He did a great job of getting to the rim and I thought he did a good job of sharing the ball to get us into offense. He’s going to be a special player.” 

The ‘Cats went into the game short-handed, as both freshman forward Cam Whitmore and senior guard Justin Moore sat with injuries. 

The Flames were led by senior guard Darius McGhee, who finished with 26 points. McGhee and freshman guard Colin Porter combined for 40 of the Flames’ 62 points. 

“He’s dynamic,” Neptune said of McGhee. “He forces you to play so far outside the scoring area. He can make some difficult, difficult shots even if you play good defense. Once you get out on him, the other guys can get it going as well. They’re a really challenging team to defend.” 

The Flames used a 9-0 run over the span of four minutes late in the first half to build a nine-point lead. After two free throws from sophomore forward Jordan Longino with 20 seconds to go in the first, the halftime score stood 32-25. The lead built by that 9-0 burst would remain for the entirety of the second half.  

The ‘Cats managed to bring it to within two shortly after halftime, but the Flames used a 6-0 spurt to bring the lead back to eight. From there, the ‘Cats could simply not make up the ground they had lost in the first. They would outscore the Flames in the second half 32-30, but it was not enough to push the ‘Cats over the hump. The final buzzer sounded on both the game and the ‘Cats season, with the Flames winning 62-57. 

Neptune and his staff will now turn their attention to the offseason, as they look to add to the roster with recruits and transfers.