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Villanova MBB squeaks out win over struggling Georgetown to end skid

01/16/2023, 5:30pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

VILLANOVA — There was no magic button for the VIllanova men’s basketball team to hit to turnaround its season.

But if you looked up ‘get-right game’ in the dictionary, Monday’s matinee with Georgetown at Finneran Pavilion might be right there. The struggling Hoyas, who entered with 27 straight losses in Big East play, provided a chance to snap a three-game skid and give something to celebrate for a team who admitted last week that frustration was building. 

Georgetown proved to be no rollover as it came in with desperation of its own and it took some late-game heroics, still the Wildcats walked away with a 77-73 win to pick up their first victory since a Jan. 4 win over the Hoyas.

“It’s just sticking together,” freshman Mark Armstrong said. “It’s a grind of a season. It’s a long season ahead of us. We still got more games and we’re all into it right now. We’re going to keep driving, keep fighting.”

Villanova's Brandon Slater had a critical steal in Monday's win over Georgetown. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Villanova trailed before graduate wing Brandon Slater tied the game with a little under two minutes left. Redshirt-junior forward Eric Dixon blocked a shot on Georgetown’s next possession and then scored an and-one on the other end, putting the Wildcats (9-10, 3-5 Big East) ahead 74-71 with 1:01 to play.

A pair of free throws from Georgetown sophomore Primo Spears pulled the Hoyas (5-18, 0-8) within one and a Slater turnover gave them the ball trailing 74-73 with 30 seconds remaining.

Villanova’s vet atoned for his miscue, however, swiping the ball from Spears and sending it ahead for a monster slam from freshman Cam Whitmore with 11 seconds remaining. 

“Honestly, it was just a play,” Slater said. “I can’t really tell you too much about what I was thinking. It was just a play I made for my teammates and coaches. It was a play that just happened to be there and I finished it.”

Following a timeout, Georgetown rushed a 3-point attempt and Dixon grabbed the board and knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to finish off the victory. Graduate wing Caleb Daniels led a quintet of double-figure scores with 16 points. Slater added 15, Armstrong 14, Whitmore 13 and Dixon 12.

“We’re a team that needs to grow,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “That was a big step for us. In the past, Villanova teams have been really balanced scoring wise and I think we were that today. Offensively, if we share the ball like that I think we’ll be in a good spot.”

After getting up by as many as 11 and leading for most of the first half, Villanova saw its advantage shrink to 37-33 at halftime and quickly dissipate after the break. Georgetown used a 9-0 run to go up 44-42 with 16:42 remaining. The Wildcats tied the game but six more in a row for the Hoyas made it 50-44 at the 13:05 mark.

Villanova never let the margin get larger than six, their veterans Slater, Daniels or Dixon making a bucket or more often than not getting to the line  — VIllanova shot 23- of-31 from the stripe in the game — whenever it was absolutely needed to keep the game from getting away. 

Whitmore and Armstrong also made big plays. Armstrong’s layup tied the game 63-63 with 6:17 to go. Another bucket at the 4:19 mark briefly gave the Wildcats a five-point lead, 68-63, capping a 7-0 burst. 

The 6-foot-2 guard from Saint Peter’s Prep (N.J.) played a career-high 30 minutes and matched his career-high scoring mark of 14 he reached earlier this month against the Hoyas. He had eight of his points after halftime, while Dixon, Daniels and Slater all added nine apiece after the break.

“I feel like Mark, he’s a freshman and he’s getting better literally by the day, by the game and hopefully he’ll carry this onto the next game,” Neptune said. “He’s had these types of games in the past. I think where he was his best was defensively, being in his stance, kind of being gnat. People don’t see how athletic he is, how fast he is. He can really get to spots and disrupt teams, and that’s what I thought he did the best today.”

Georgetown shot 53.8 percent from the field, including 15-of-25 (60 percent) in the second half. Spears was terrific, scoring 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go along with seven assists and Jordan Riley, who came in averaging 4.9 ppg added another 18.

Brandon Murray (10 points) hit four free throws and Spears made a couple of tough jumpers late to put the Hoyas back ahead, but the Wildcats’ defense showed up late when they needed it with the big block from Dixon and a steal by Slater.

“We told our guys, offense is offense and that’s fine, but we’ve gotta be about getting stops,” Neptune said. “We’re a work in progress in that regard, but we just gotta continue to get better.”

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