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Villanova Ends Season with 70–61 Loss to VCU in NIT First Round

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Senior forward Eric Dixon recorded a double-double against VCU with 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Villanova (18–16) was back in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) for the second year in a row after a 71–65 overtime loss to Marquette in the Big East quarterfinals on March 14.

The Wildcats also gave up the first round of the NIT for the second year in a row.

Virginia Commonwealth University (23–13) defeated No. 1 seed Villanova, 70–61, on Wednesday, March 20.

A nearly complete Villanova roster was available against VCU. The only player missing was junior guard Jordan Longino, who remained sidelined with a left knee sprain.

Redshirt senior forward Eric Dixon finished his season with a double-double performance, contributing 21 points and 13 rebounds. Although Dixon has one more year of eligibility, he has not yet announced his plans for 2024–2025. 

Senior guard TJ Bamba also led the offense with 12 points and three rebounds.

“This hurts,” Dixon said. “To end like this is kind of difficult. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have played with TJ [Bamba], Hak [Hart], Arch [Arcidiacono], Justin [Moore], Tyler [Burton] and those guys.”

Graduate guard Justin Moore recorded two points and two rebounds in the final game of his Villanova career.

“I think you have to evaluate Justin Moore on the entirety of his career,” head coach Kyle Neptune said. “He’s meant a lot to this program. He’s meant a lot to this campus community. That’s how we’ll remember him.”

The teams traded scoring runs throughout a monotonous first first twenty minutes, with both offenses lacking consistency. Villanova shot 44 percent from the field in the first half, while VCU shot 38 percent.

Sophomore guard Mark Armstrong led the Villanova offense in the first half, scoring eight points. Armstrong finished the game with five assists. On the defensive side, Dixon recorded nine defensive rebounds in the first twenty minutes.

The ‘Cats showed a flash of energy when sophomore guard Brendan Hausen made a steal, leading to an Armstrong dunk assisted by Bamba.

The play put Villanova up 14–8 on a 9–0 run, prompting a VCU timeout at 11:37. After the timeout, the Rams climbed their way back into the lead, scoring 11 unanswered points.

The pattern continued for the remainder of the first half as the lead shifted between the teams.

The ‘Cats put the last seven seconds of the half to good use. Armstrong launched a three-pointer off a defensive rebound by senior forward Lance Ware.

The first half ended with VCU ahead just 31–30.

The score remained tight in the second half. Bamba kept the ‘Cats going with eight of his points scored in the last twenty minutes.

The game reached a 46–46 standstill with just over ten minutes remaining.

The Rams soon forged a 10–0 run, including four points from free throws, for a 56–49 lead. With under eight minutes left to play, it was VCU’s largest advantage of the game thus far.

Neptune called a timeout as the Wildcats sought to regain control of the uncharacteristically slow-paced contest.

Dixon spearheaded a speedy Villanova comeback, scoring eight consecutive points. After a pair of successful free throws, Dixon made a deft steal and was fouled again on the fast break. Dixon then added two more free throws and a layup.

Immediately after another VCU timeout, Dixon put Villanova over the top, 57–56, with a layup in the paint.

The lead was short-lived, as the scoreboard escaped the ‘Cats again and the Rams gained a six-point lead as the final two minutes approached.

Villanova entered the final 60 seconds behind by five, bringing flashbacks to its previous two last-minute losses to DePaul and Marquette. The Wildcats could not find a way out of the setback and did not score again.

After back-to-back years ending the season in the NIT, Neptune addressed concerns from Villanova fans going into the offseason.

“Obviously we’re not happy with these results,” Neptune said. “We’re going to go back and work our behinds off as a staff. We’ll have a great summer and come back next year. We have the type of program and the type of people here that are grinders and we’ll continue to grind.”

VCU moves onto the next round of the NIT on Sunday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. against South Florida.

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Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis, Co-Sports Editor
Katie Lewis is a sophomore from Miami, FL in her first year as Co-Sports Editor in 2024. From covering games to writing features and profiles, she loves to find the story behind Villanova sports. Pursuing her enthusiasm for writing and journalism in her studies at Villanova, Katie is double-majoring in English and Communication with concentrations in Journalism and Writing & Rhetoric. When Katie isn’t at Holy Grounds working on her next article, she enjoys playing tennis with Villanova’s club team.
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