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Villanova begins first NIT appearance since 2004 at Liberty

By Sportsnaut,

2023-03-14

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Despite a litany of injuries to key players, Villanova rallied to win seven of its final 10 games to secure a berth in the National Invitation Tournament.

The Wildcats will travel to face No. 2 seed Liberty on Tuesday in Lynchburg, Va.

Justin Moore, who ruptured his Achilles in the Elite Eight last season against Houston, missed 20 games this season. Big East Freshman of the Year Cam Whitmore was sidelined for the first seven games following surgery on his right thumb. And Jordan Longino was out for eight games in the middle of the Big East schedule with a hamstring injury.

Villanova (17-16) was ousted by Creighton, 87-74, in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

“Our defense wasn’t bad. I thought they got into transition a little too much and hurt us there,” said first-year head coach Kyle Neptune, who replaced Hall of Famer Jay Wright this season. “As the game went on, we had to play catch up and we got a little loose defensively because of that.”

The Wildcats, who won national championships in 2016 and 2018, last appeared in the NIT in 2004.

Liberty earned its first-ever bid into the NIT and will look to defeat Villanova in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

The Flames (26-8) picked up a share of the ASUN regular-season title with a 15-3 mark.

Liberty fell 67-66 to Kennesaw State in a memorable conference tournament championship game.

Kyle Rode scored a season-high 23 points and became the 31st player to reach 1,000 points in program history. Rode shot 9 of 14 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point territory.

Rode entered the game with 999 career points.

While Liberty came up just short of an NCAA Tournament bid, it will continue to compete in a loaded NIT field.

“Congratulations to Kennesaw. They were a tough out today,” Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t advance to the NCAA Tournament. That’s something that our program has had the blessing of participating in. It’s a lifelong memory when you make it there. Kennesaw deserved it. I’m really proud of our group, though. I think this is as resilient of a team as we’ve had, and I think there might be some more basketball left for us.”

–Field Level Media

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