They say that there is no such thing as an easy night in the Big East. For the first seven minutes on Wednesday night at The Pavilion, it looked like conventional wisdom would be proven wrong as the Villanova Wildcats raced out to an 18-4 lead over the Marquette Golden Eagles. When the lead reached 16 less than two minutes later, it felt like the Golden Eagles would be run out of the gym. That was not what happened.
Marquette fights back
Although Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson combined for 21 first half points, they were powerless to prevent the Golden Eagles from ripping off an 18-3 run while shooting the lights out of the basketball. After beginning the game just 2-8 shooting, Marquette made 14 of their next 17 shots as they finally got their first lead of the game since they’d led 2-0 with 1:11 left on the clock.
Golden Eagles lead at the break
Villanova head coach Jay Wright was far from amused, and quickly called a timeout as his Wildcats were looking ever more rattled. Although the timeout settled nerves and was followed by a quick bucket, Marquette’s freshman phenom Henry Ellenson made a lay-up at the buzzer to send both teams back down the tunnel with the Golden Eagles in the lead 38-37. They closed the first half out on a 27-11 run, and over the course of the game’s opening 20 minutes Ellenson, Haanif Cheatham and Traci Carter combined for 26 points.
Villanova re-establishes control
Villanova came out from the break looking like the team we saw during the game’s first seven minutes. Although the Golden Eagles managed to stay with them for the first few minutes of the second half, eventually the Wildcats’ superior talent shone through, and it became apparent why they are the #6 team in the nation.
Villanova led 50-49 with 12:42 on the clock before embarking on a 20-3 run. They kept Marquette from scoring a field goal for more than eight straight minutes as the Golden Eagles failed to hit great look after great look.
On the other end of the floor, the Villanova offense executed well. They were not unstoppable by any means, but the complete inability of Marquette to score at all meant that the highly ranked team didn’t find their lead in danger. Key baskets from Mikal Bridges and Kris Jenkins helped the Wildcats open up a 70-53 lead.
Marquette tries to get back in the game
However, the Golden Eagles finally found made a basket when Duane Wilson hit a deep three-pointer. His huge shot was part of a quick 8-0 run from the visiting team, and an additional three from Sandy Cohen III cut the lead to 70-61 with three and a half minutes on the clock.
That was as close as they would come. All conference season long, Marquette has lead the Big East in turnovers, and in the end it was turnovers and bad shots which doomed their comeback effort on Wednesday night. When the buzzer finally sounded with Villanova 83-68 winners, the visitors could only rue their missed opportunities to pick up yet another big away conference victory.
With the victory, Villanova improves to 15-2 (5-0 Big East) and get to look forward to a trip to the nation’s capital on Saturday to visit Georgetown. Meanwhile, Marquette drops to 12-5 (2-3 Big East) and will have to try and regroup before hosting Xavier at the Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon.