PHILADELPHIA — The University of Maine’s first venture into the Women’s NIT since 2005 nearly ended before it began Friday night.

The Villanova Wildcats drained seven of their first nine 3-point attempts to build a 23-point first-half lead, and then withstood a frantic Black Bears comeback by sinking five straight 3-pointers down the stretch to finish with a 71-60 victory.

Villanova (20-13), which plays in the Big East, advances to play Old Dominion on Sunday in the second round. Had Maine won, it would have hosted Old Dominion on Monday.

Maine finishes with a 23-9 record in Coach Richard Barron’s fourth season after inheriting a 2-25 program. It was not the way any of the Black Bears wanted to see it end.

“Villanova played really well, but I think we were a little shellshocked that first half,” said Barron, whose club shook off a dreadful 8-for-30 shooting performance in the first half to go a blistering 15 for 22 after intermission.

“They really spread the ball around and executed,” said Barron. “Obviously the second half we played a lot better. Our offense was executing and we cut into the lead. But then three possessions in a row we gave up 3s.”

It didn’t help Maine’s cause that leading scorer Sigi Koizar was held scoreless in the first half, taking only one shot. But she came out on a mission in the second and made the Wildcats sweat it out for longer than they would have liked.

“I played more aggressive in the second half,” said Koizar, who erupted for a game-high 22 points. “We knew they were good shooters. That first half they were hitting the shots and we weren’t.”

Mikaela Gustafsson (17 points) and Liz Wood (nine points, 11 rebounds) also made their presence felt for the Black Bears, who were determined not to go down without a fight on a first day of spring that saw half a foot of snow fall in the Philadelphia area.

Maine’s problem was that the early hole was simply too deep to climb out of, especially with the way Villanova kept shooting.

“Being down 20 points is really tough,” said Gustafsson, “but I think as a group we came out and did a better job the second half.

“We proved to ourselves we’re a very capable team. I think we’re all excited about next year, knowing everybody’s back. But we know we’re going to have to work even harder so that we show we’re capable of playing teams like Villanova.”

At the same time, Barron wants them to feel the pain of this one.

“It got out of hand so fast,” he said.

Villanova’s Lauren Burford drilled four consecutive 3-pointers, and then when Maine extended its defense the rest of the Wildcats got inside for a series of layups and short jumpers to build a 28-8 lead.

“From that point on we started to play our game the way we can play,” Barron said.

“To be fair to Villanova, it also changed the way they played. They got a little rattled (when Sophie Weckstrom’s short jumper made it 56-46 with 5:09 left). But at that point we were running out of time and then they made a bunch of 3s.

“There’s no question we’ve got a bright future, but we want to acknowledge the fact this loss hurts. We didn’t come here to give the performance we gave, especially in the first half.

“There should be some disappointment about that, as well as frustration, because a lot of that was within our control.”