Darius McGhee had 26 points and four steals to help lift host Liberty past Villanova 62-57 on Tuesday in the opening round of the NIT in Lynchburg, Va.
The third-seeded Flames (27-8) will face Wisconsin in the second round, likely on Tuesday. The second-seeded Badgers beat the Braves 81-62 later Tuesday night.
Collin Porter added 14 points, thanks in part to making 6 of 11 free throws in the final 1:20 to seal the win for Liberty. Zach Cleveland swept 12 rebounds off the bench.
Brandon Slater led short-handed Villanova with 18 points, while Mark Armstrong added 12. Eric Dixon had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Wildcats (17-17), who reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Villanova played without Big East Freshman of the Year Cam Whitmore and Justin Moore, who were out due to injuries. Whitmore is projected to be a lottery pick if he opts to leave the program.
The Wildcats shot just 4 of 26 (15.4%) from 3-point territory and Caleb Daniels (four points) went 0-for-9.
Armstrong’s difficult layup with 2:53 remaining closed the gap to 53-50. He missed the free throw, however, which would have completed a three-point play.
Brendan Hausen missed a trey with just under 20 seconds left with Villanova trailing 61-57.
With 15:16 remaining in the second half, Armstrong hit a 15-foot jumper to close Villanova within 38-34. But Kyle Rode came back with a deep 3-pointer to go back ahead 41-34 with 14:18 left.
Hausen hit a trey from the corner as the shot clock was about to expire and Villanova got within 48-43 with 10:01 to go.
McGhee launched a 25-foot 3-pointer with 5:58 left for a 53-45 advantage.
With 6:27 left in the first half, Porter dropped in a 3-pointer for a 23-19 Liberty lead.
Dixon responded with consecutive baskets in the low post to tie the game.
The Flames then ripped off a 9-0 run for a 32-23 advantage.
Liberty went into the locker room with a seven-point lead, 32-25, thanks in large part to 12 points from McGhee.
Dixon paced the Wildcats with nine points and seven rebounds.
Villanova shot just 1-for-9 from 3-point territory.
–Field Level Media
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