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Villanova loses to Marquette in Big East semifinal, NCAAs in jeopardy

03/15/2024, 1:45am EDT
By Finn Courtney

Finn Courtney (@finncourtney_)

NEW YORK CITY - This is March, and boy oh boy, if you didn’t know it, Villanova and Marquette just reminded you. 

Nailbiter may not go far enough to describe Villanova and Marquette’s Big East Tournament quarterfinal battle that ended in an overtime Marquette win, 71-65 on Thursday night. 

Kyle Neptune (above) and Villanova lost in overtime on Thursday. (Screenshot)

Marquette’s back in the Big East tournament semifinals and Villanova’s almost certainly out of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season - the first time since the early 2000s that occurred.

“Honestly, just right now, just still digesting all this stuff right now,” Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune said post-game. “Obviously, a tough loss for us. The guys in the locker room, we fully expected to play through, to get through, we wanted to win this thing.”

Villanova nearly did just that, playing a complete 40 minutes on both ends, even if the shots weren't falling (9-35 3PT, 25.7%). Unfortunately, they ran out of steam in the final five, unable to stop Marquette nailing two clutch 3's, one of them coming from forward David Joplin, who had three on the day and finished with 14 points.

“Just staying aggressive, [we] practice situations like that,” Joplin said. “You think you might make a shot, you think the game might be won and we go into overtime so we practice responding.”

While any overtime game is already a wild affair, this one already had enough madness in regulation to make March’s name ring true. After trailing for most of the second half, Villanova guard TJ Bamba knocked down three of three free throws at the line to not the game up at 58-58. 

A few possessions later, a block from sophomore Mark Armstrong -- who finished with 15 points -- gave Villanova a chance to get a bucket and win it, overtime not necessary. However, rather than use a timeout, Neptune let his guys play, Justin Moore launched a three but inductive of his night, he couldn’t connect.

“We trust them,” Neptune said, post-game on the possession. “Obviously Shaka Smart is a really good coach, he switches his defense up every single time you come out of a timeout. So we wanted to give our guys a shot to win it [and] we got a shot for Justin Moore, a makeable shot.”

It looked as if that final possession would cost Villanova dearly, after 39 minutes of hard, grit-filled action, it looked as if the game was at an end. Marquette’s Kam Jones appeared to make a game-winning shot with just 2.3 seconds remaining, as Marquette began a celebration on the court - however, the officials reviewed the call and waived it off.

While Moore - the hero of Wednesday’s thriller against the DePaul Blue Devils - did score two points in overtime, he struggled in what (barring an NIT bid) constituted his final Villanova game. Marquette keyed in on him possession after possession, scoring just four points (1-10, 0-6 3PA, 2-2 FT), a crushing blow to an already weakened offense with Jordan Longino’s injury the night before.

“He’s one of the marquis players. So they did focus on him, made it tough for him, loaded to him,” Neptune said. “But it is what it is. This is [the] Big East Tournament. You can't 100 percent rely on making and missing shots and either way I was proud of the way our guys competed, especially defensively.”

The overtime period very well could have constituted the ugliest five minutes of basketball all year for Villanova. The Wildcats looked gassed, were only able to knock down one field goal in five attempts and lacked the same fire they showed in the first 40 minutes. Marquette dominated the period and will again tomorrow, surely with the NCAA tournament to follow.

For Villanova, no such luck. Unfortunately for them, the sting of this loss will be one that resonates for months as a team that was ranked 22nd in the country to open the season, brought in four touted transfers and shelled out major NIL money will once again be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.

Barring a miracle, it marks the first time since Jay Wright’s first four Villanova seasons that a Wildcats team has consecutively missed the Big Dance. 

“I was proud of them,” Neptune said. “I thought we came out, I thought the guys played extremely hard. I thought we were really good defensively for most of the game, got some key stops, made some key tough offensive plays.”

In the near-future at least, the question of whether or not the Wildcats will accept an NIL bid will be answered and all eyes will be on star forward Eric Dixon.

The fifth-year forward, who led the Wildcats in scoring this season and finished with 19 points (6-15, 2-7) and 11 rebounds in the loss, has one more year available and questions are swirling about whether or not he’ll opt to return to school or turn pro, with much speculation on the topic by media and fans alike.

For now however, disappointment will hang over Villanova’s campus for a while, a university accustomed to success after two national championships in ten years and a Final Four appearance just two seasons ago will once again swallow a bitter pill. This tournament is where the lights shine the brightest and once again, they proved harsh for the Wildcats.

“[It’s] the Big East tournament,” Neptune said. “This is the best league for college basketball in the country, got big-time players, big-time programs, coaches. The margins are very small.”

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