The Villanova Wildcats had their rally caps on for the second game in a row, and they battled to the closing seconds in a tightly-contested Phil Knight Invitational opener against Iowa State, but came up empty-handed once again.
Fresh off a comeback that fell short against Michigan State, the ‘Cats came alive in the closing minutes and pushed the Cyclones to overtime, but they weren’t able to overtake Iowa State, who held on to win, 81-79.
“Lost to a really good team, (Iowa State) played extremely hard and set the tone early,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “We threw some punches at them. To their credit, they had a lot of resolve. Very well-coached, extremely disciplined and they really played hard.”
After a 34-34 halftime stalemate, the Cyclones peaked at 16-point lead, after blitzing the ‘Cats with a 17-1 run to open the second half.
“They just made some tough shots, I thought,” Neptune said of the Iowa State run. “They moved the ball extremely well. Obviously, they mixed up getting the ball inside and some timely tough shots on the perimeter, so hat’s off to them.”
Villanova responded with a 9-0 run to generate some momentum and finally closed in on the Cyclones in the final moments of regulation.
Villanova ended regulation with a 7-0 run over the final 1:35, sparked by an Eric Dixon layup. followed by a timely Brendan Hausen three.
“I thought we started the game with decent energy level,” Neptune said. “The way they play, give them a lot of credit, it’s pretty unique. We haven’t gone against that yet this year, it’s tough to simulate in practice, so it took us a while to get settled in. It definitely discombobulated us a little bit and put us on our heels. I said to our guys, credit we came back and by the last 4-5 minutes of the game, we were playing hard. We got into a groove and into a rhythm, but it was a little too late.”
The Wildcats tried to go for the win, but Brandon Slater was able to corral a Dixon airball and draw a foul, where he promptly went 2-for-2 to tie things up. Jordan Longino provided solid defense in the final seconds to leave things knotted up at 67 to force overtime.
Overtime ended up being more of the same, with the ‘Cats struggling to play catch-up and Iowa State having an answer for every basket or just keeping a step ahead of the ‘Cats.
The Wildcats struggled with turnovers against the Cyclones and were one of several factors that gave them a hard time with generating offense, piling up 18 of them, but a costly giveaway with 20 seconds left in overtime virtually sealed the Wildcats’ hopes. Down 77-74, Caleb Daniels’ pass was intercepted and the Cyclones converted with two free throws to pad their lead.
Although Villanova didn’t go away quietly, with back-to-back Daniels baskets in the last few seconds, the ‘Cats ran out of time.
“We define ourselves differently from everybody else,” said Neptune, about how he keeps the team moving forward despite another disappointing result. “We’ve had years where we were really, really good, and we were defining ourselves differently than everybody was at that time. Now, we define ourselves differently from everybody else. We’re just thinking of playing our next game, getting better and being the best team we can be by the end of the season.”
Daniels paced the ‘Cats with 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and a steal. Dixon had 21-point, 10-rebound double-double. Slater had 14 points on 3-of-10 shooting, seven boards, four assists and three steals. Jordan Longino had seven points, while Chris Arcidiacono had six points on 2-of-8 shooting, with three boards, five assists and two turnovers.
For Iowa State, Gabe Kalscheur had a team-high 23 points before fouling out. Osun Osunniyi had 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting, with five boards, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Jaren Holmes finished with 12 points, five rebounds, nine assists and three steals. Robert Jones chipped in 10 points and five rebounds off the bench.
The Cyclones were a force in the paint all game long, on both ends of the court, but offensively, they outscored the ‘Cats in the paint, 40-16. They also got way more bench production, edging Villanova, 37-6.
Villanova drops to 2-3 overall. With the loss, it will now play Portland on Friday, at 3 p.m. ET, in the consolation bracket of the PK85 Invitational. That game will be available on ESPN2.
“It’s always a next-game mentality,” Daniels said. “We know we have to stay together each and every day, keep going regardless of wins or losses. What takes that pressure off is knowing we have each other and having that next game, next rep, next whatever mentality.”