There was no sugar coating or mincing of words.
The Villanova Wildcats lost a heartbreaker at the hands of the Temple Owls on Friday night, by a final score of 68-64.
“Credit goes to Temple, they were really good,” said Kyle Neptune just moments after suffering his first loss as Villanova’s head coach. “They were tough, they were physical, they played hard, they were locked in. They just played better than us tonight, and there’s no other way to say it.”
Riding the momentum of a raucous student section, the Temple Owls started off the first half strong, opening a 13-point lead on Villanova with under eight minutes to go in the first half. Villanova would close the first half strong however, finishing the last four and a half minutes on an 11-3 run to close the halftime deficit to 34-29.
Villanova came out of the break and started strong. The ‘Cats took their first lead of the game when Eric Dixon got an and-one, then Caleb Daniels converted on all three free throws following a foul, giving ‘Nova a 47-45 lead with 10:41 remaining.
It was a back-and-forth battle from that point on, with both teams fighting for every point and trading baskets and momentum.
Jordan Longino scored a massive three-pointer after an Eric Dixon offensive rebound to put the Wildcats up by two with 52 seconds left in regulation.
On the next possession, Dixon fouled Temple’s Damian Dunn, and he responded by supplying two game-tying free throws. After a Villanova miss and a Brandon Slater foul, Dunn would go to the line again, and he made both free throws to put Temple in front. The ‘Cats never answered back from there.
“I was just putting the pressure on the referee to make the call,” said Dunn of the final series.
Khalif Battle had a nice showing for the Owls with 21 points and one assist. Jamille Reynolds had a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double. Dunn pitched in 22 points of his own, including the two fateful free throws to put Temple in front.
“Oh, Dame,” said Battle when asked about who he wanted to take the final shot. “I wasn’t gonna pass it to nobody else, it was either him or I am taking the last shot.”
Battle seemed to have made the right call, as Dunn was able to stay a perfect 22-for-22 from the free throw line to start his 2022-23 campaign. (He went 18-for-18 in Temple’s loss to Wagner.)
Villanova, a team who typically lives and dies by the three-ball, was a shocking 2-7 from beyond the arc tonight.
“We practiced that, we wasn’t going to leave our man,” Battle said. “We accepted a one-on-one challenge, and I’m confident that we could guard them one-on-one.”
The Wildcats wanted to take more threes, but were limited.
“They just denied the perimeter and forced us to make back cuts in the paint,” Daniels said of what made it tough to get more three-point looks. “For us to pivot, pivot and look for guys on the perimeter is kind of tough because they did a great job of protecting the perimeter. Hat’s off to them.”
Caleb Daniels missed a mid-range shot which would have put the Wildcats up with just 28 seconds to go.
“I was praying to God that he missed it,” exclaimed Dunn. “I fell, saw the ball bounce off the front of the rim, and started thanking God in my head.
“I’ve been here for four years, so I’ve seen what type of program they run. Knocking a top twenty five team off for us at home, that was big for us.”
As for Villanova, Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon were the stars of the show for the Wildcats. Daniels finished with 19 points and three rebounds, while Dixon finished with 18 points and five rebounds. Brandon Slater was also a key contributor, adding nine points of his own including one thunderous poster dunk on Temple’s Kur Jongkuch.
“They were really physical to start the game,” Neptune said. “They imposed their will on the offensive glass and had like five or six offensive rebounds to start the game. Neither team could score, that was the difference early. They just made it tough for us all night. It was never easy.
“...They took away our threes, made us play one on one. They did a great job. We always say take whatever the defense gives us and unfortunately that’s what they gave us. They took away something we like to do.”
Villanova drops to 1-1 this season. It is the Wildcats’ first loss to Temple since 2012. The glaring hole on this team is scoring depth and who can hold down the fort until Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore can return.
Villanova faced adversity tonight and got the short end of the stick. How this team bounces back in the near future will tell you a lot about the culture Kyle Neptune is building in the locker room.
“We know guys on this team are resilient,” Neptune said. “We don’t shy away from any challenges.”
Villanova will now turn their attention to Delaware State, a team who is ranked 362/363 in KenPom. If there was ever a game to sort out some faults in Kyle Neptune’s vision this would be the game to do so. You can catch that game on FS2 at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday.