Marquette loses handily to No. 1 Villanova

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Photo by Austin Anderson

Jajuan Johnson recorded a double-double and snagged five steals.

The Marquette Golden Eagles (10-5, 1-2 BIG EAST) lost to the No. 1 Villanova Wildcats (15-1, 3-1 BIG EAST) on Saturday night in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia by a final score of 93-81.

Future Marquette fans may see that score someday and will probably make the mistake of assuming that the game was close. It wasn’t.

That final score looks respectable solely because Marquette went on an 18-2 run over the last four minutes and 43 seconds of the game, well after the result had already been decided and Villanova eased up. Before that stretch, Villanova led 91-63, a margin more indicative of the disparities between the two teams.

Field goal percentage is a far better indicator of what actually happened in the game, as Villanova basically got any shot that they desired. The Wildcats opened both halves by shooting eight of nine from the floor. Villanova’s first-half shooting percentage of 65.2 percent and its final shooting percentage of 65.3 percent were both season-highs.

Unbelievably, Marquette still managed to keep the score within the bounds of respectability for most of the first half. That was mostly thanks to the Golden Eagles’ efforts from beyond the three-point line; they shot 7-13 on deep balls before halftime. Markus Howard contributed three of those seven. Nobody else on the team had more then one.

Howard was just about the only Marquette player capable of creating offense. The freshman point guard scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in that first half on five-of-eight shooting. Everybody else combined to go 7-of-20 from the floor and nobody had more than five points.

One of Howard’s buckets late in the first half was the source of some controversy. Marquette was down only nine points with just under 90 seconds left when Howard drove to the hoop, hung in the air between two Nova defenders, banked in the layup, then crashed to the ground. The refs did not whistle either defender for a foul, a decision with which Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski vehemently disagreed. He screamed at the ref and had to be restrained by his staff, which earned him a technical foul.

Still, Marquette entered halftime trailing 44-33 and possessing at least a modicum of hope – hope that would be quickly extinguished in the second half, which began with a 9-0 Villanova run. That spurt started mostly thanks to the play of Villanova guard Jalen Brunson. The “wily sophomore,” as the FOX Sports 1 broadcasters dubbed him, drew an offensive foul from Luke Fischer to start the half and drained a three-pointer on the ensuing possession. He then assisted senior Kris Jenkins on a three, pulled down a defensive rebound on Marquette’s next trip down the floor and funneled an offensive rebound to senior Josh Hart, who found sophomore Mikal Bridges for another three. That’s three points, two rebounds and one assist in a little over two minutes of game action.

Brunson finished the game with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists on five of seven shooting, which would be bad enough for Marquette if he were the only player gouging the defense. That was not the case. Four Villanova players scored in double-digits, led by Jenkins with 23 points. Five Villanova players also pulled down at least four rebounds. Brunson and Hart, who also scored 19 points, tied for the lead in that category with five apiece.

That kind of team effort, buoyed by exquisite ball movement, led Villanova to the massive 29-9 run that took up nearly the first seven minutes of the half. It seemed as though every Marquette defensive rotation would reveal yet another open Villanova player, who would be promptly found with a precise pass for a high-quality look. Only eight of Villanova’s 32 field goals did not have an assist attached.

Some of Marquette’s poor defense may be attributable to senior Jajuan Johnson’s foul troubles. Johnson picked up two fouls within the first four minutes of the game and got dinged on another questionable foul call later in the half. All told, those fouls caused the BIG EAST’s steals leader to play only eight minutes in the opening half. It may have also caused him to play less aggressively on defense later in the game, a trait which was in short supply as Villanova repeatedly carved up Marquette’s half court set.

On the other side of the ball, Marquette made little pretense of establishing an inside presence. The Golden Eagles scored only half as many points in the paint as Villanova did (34-18), a difference largely due to the sheer volume of three-pointers taken. Thirty-one of Marquette’s 63 shots were from behind the three-point line, which sounds ludicrous until you consider that the Golden Eagles actually shot 45.2 percent on threes and only 37.5 percent on twos. Any dribble penetration that did happen seemed to be for the express purpose of setting up a trey.

Those three-pointers kept Marquette in the game and provided a jolt to Marquette’s otherwise shaky offense, but they also gave Villanova no reason to respect any other facet of the Golden Eagle attack. It took until the very end of the first half for Marquette to shoot its first free throws, largely because the Wildcats had no other priorities on defense besides closing out on Marquette shooters. Once the Golden Eagles went 0-4 on threes to start the second half, their only source of offensive production was eliminated. By the time it came back, Villanova had already built a lead far too big to overcome, however decent the scoreboard might look.

 

NOTES

  • Junior guard Duane Wilson missed his second straight game with a left groin injury that he suffered against Georgetown. Wilson has only started one game this season.
  • Four Golden Eagles did score in double figures, although most of them reached that mark long after the game had been decided. Graduate student Katin Reinhardt had 15 points, freshman forward Sam Hauser had 13 points and Johnson notched 12 points. Hauser also collected a team-high five rebounds.
  • Haanif Cheatham continued to struggle, shooting only two of eight from the field for seven points. The sophomore guard has shot three-of-19 for just 10 points through three BIG EAST games. He averaged more than 10 points per game in Marquette’s non-conference schedule.
  • Marquette has lost nine straight games against Villanova dating back to the 2013 season. Nova’s average margin of victory in those games is 14.5 points. The last time Marquette beat the Wildcats was on January 28, 2012.