As the Villanova Wildcats prepare to face off against Marquette, Justin Moore is shaking off the rust and glad to be back competing, after being a full participant in practice for about a month.
After a long recovery process, he didn’t have the Providence game in mind originally, but he returned with his family's support and the knowledge that he felt ready, then informed Villanova coach Kyle Neptune that last Sunday was definitely the day.
Moore made his official decision approximately “a week and some change” before the Providence game, then informed the rest of his teammates a few days before.
“I’ve been practicing for a while now, just getting back out there,” Moore said. “Being out there with the guys – that was the main thing. I wanted to be there for them – get back out there and finally play again. ... When I first got back out in practice, it was about getting over that mental block. After that, it was about getting back in top shape and playing the game. Practice is not really like playing a game, so I wanted to build myself up.”
He kept it low-key throughout the week, and while the team matched that disposition, there’s no doubt his return means a whole lot.
“I think, for us, it was really exciting to see him back out there more so for him than for us,” forward Eric Dixon said.
No dance moves or big celebrations, those are still reserved for birthdays.
“We’re not a hype team,” Dixon said, laughing.
Moore seems to be taking it easy and taking every day one step at a time. There was definite soreness after his first full game back, but he didn’t plan on taking a minutes reduction in a close game and had open discussions with the coaching staff about how he was feeling on Sunday during the game.
There’s no word on what his plans are for after this season, or if he’ll use his bonus COVID year of eligibility.
“I’m not sure what I’m gonna do,” Moore said. “I’m just really focused on the now right now. I’m finally back playing, and I’m trying to contribute to the team.”
Even though Villanova lost to Providence last Sunday, Moore says that he was proud of his performance, “I think that it was impressive. I think being able to hold my own out there, the guys trying to attack me and stuff like that.”
Neptune agrees, stating that Justin’s return takes some pressure off the team as a whole, “All the guys have to do just a little bit less.”
With some time to digest Sunday’s loss, Neptune shared his thoughts.
“I thought we had our chances, I thought we played pretty well.” he said. “We’ve been playing one and two possession games throughout the season, and you’ve just got to get better in those situations.”
They’re ready to turn the page and will have their hands full against a 17-5 Marquette team that’s the top-ranked offense, according to KenPom.
“They really share the ball,” Neptune said. “They’ve got really good team chemistry. They’ve been playing pretty much the same style. As you grow throughout the season some teams get much better at what they do, and they’ve gotten much better at what they do.”
As the team enters the most critical part of the season, the fans want to know what Coach Neptune’s strategy in the next few games relates to their seeding in the Big East Tournament, but the ‘Cats aren’t worried about that seeding or if it’ll be do-or-die at Madison Square Garden to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
The ‘Cats are focusing on each game that is directly in front of them and adjusting as they move along in the season.
“We gotta look at it game by game at this point,” Neptune said. “We gotta think about this game against Marquette. Uh, try to be the best we can possibly be for this game, and then go back and practice, and be the best team we can.
“We just gotta focus on the game in front of us and try to get better each day. Whenever the (Big East Tournament) comes, we’ll try to get better that day and worry about that day and that game. It doesn’t do us any good thinking about March right now, we gotta think about the game in front of us.”
Tip-off against the Golden Eagles is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.