Debut Spoiled: Villanova 10, Marquette 8

Kyle Whitlow was one of two Golden Eagles with four points against Villanova. - MarquetteImages.com

A rocky start to the second half led to a two goal loss in the first ever Big East lacrosse game in Marquette history.

As as usually been the case for Marquette this season, they jumped out to an early lead at cold and blustery Time Warner Cable Stadium at Uihlein Park on Saturday afternoon.  First, an extra man goal from Kyran Clarke, then an even strength goal from Tyler Melnyk.  Villanova's a good lacrosse team, though, and even though Jimmy Danaher was making quality plays in net for Marquette, the Wildcats still found a way to knot things at two at the end of the first quarter.

Harry Dellaferra got VU their first lead of the game early in the second quarter, but less than 80 second later, Kyle Whitlow beat Dan Willis to pull Marquette even again.  That's when Villanova put Marquette into lockdown.  They held the Golden Eagles without a shot for nearly 11 minutes while three different Wildcats found ways to beat Danaher.  Marquette caught a break in the closing minute of the half when no one but Bryan Badolato realized that Melnyk had come out of a scrum with the ball.  Badolato eagerly grabbed the simple lob pass from Melnyk and ripped it home to make it 6-4 after 30 minutes.

Villanova got their defensive footing back after the break, and held Marquette without a shot for almost all of the first seven minutes while scoring another three goals, including the second and third of the game from Johnny Gallaway. For a moment there, it seemed like this was going to be just how the season goes for a second year program.  You can hold your own for a while, but sometimes games against battle tested opponents are going to slip away from you.

And that's when it happened.  Marquette found a way to shut down the Wildcat offense, holding them without a goal for more than 25 minutes minutes.  Ryan McNamara broke the Villanova streak, and Whitlow scored again to make it 9-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, lending some curiosity to the proceedings.

Melnyk broke the ice on the fourth quarter, pulling Marquette within two goals with 12:28 remaining.  Marquette had a fantastic chance to make something happen with 10 minutes left when VU got whistled for two delayed penalties, putting them down two men for 30 seconds, but the Wildcats defense forced a turnover almost immediately and ran out the penalty. With under 4 minutes to go, Marquette was pressuring Willis, but Melnyk got too close to the net and was whistled for a crease violation.  But MU's chances hadn't totally evaporated.  Following a big save by Danaher, Marquette called timeout and dialed up Connor Gately's number, and the sophomore ripped home a goal, making it 9-8 with 2:17 remaining.  After the ensuing faceoff, Noah Joseph forced a turnover and came up with a ground ball and zipped into the offensive zone with 1:29 remaining.

One last chance to knot it up. Badolato had it in the middle of the defense, and preseason all-Big East defender Christopher Conroy forced the turnover.  VU's Christian Kolderup came up with the ground ball and the Wildcats were able to go run into the other end and burn clock away.  Eventually, Logan Tousaw and Liam Byrnes were both whistled for penalties and with just seconds left, Tim Mulrenan hit the vacant MU net to put a cap on the game.

It would have been amazing to steal one from a Villanova team picked to finish in the top half of the Big East this season, and were it not for the two offensive outages on either side of halftime, maybe Marquette finds a way to pull it off.  It's part of being a second year program to figure out how to fight your way through rough times like that, and Marquette is a better lacrosse team for having gone through a game like this.

Marquette falls to 2-6 on the season and 0-1 all time in Big East contests.  MU was led by four points each from Melnyk & Whitlow, both coming on two goals and two assists.  Danaher finished with nine saves on the day.  Villanova's offense was guided by three points from both Gallaway (3G) and Devin McNamara (2G, 1A).  Big East preseason Defensive Player of the Year John LoCascio finished with an assist and a team high six ground balls.

STAT WATCH: Coming off his record setting performance against Detroit, Paul Riportella took all 20 faceoffs for Marquette against Villanova.  He won nine of his attempts for a 45% success rate.  It's just slightly worse than last year's season long mark of 42.9%, so taking Riportella's effort against Detroit into account, we'll cut him some slack.  In a very low possession game (MU only had 14 offensive opportunities), it was easy to struggle with turnovers.  But Marquette had 14 total for the game against 16 by the Wildcats, and only four MU turnovers were unforced errors.  That's a rate of 28.6 per 100 opportunities for the game, which, like the faceoffs, is just slightly worse than the 27.5 per 100 mark from last season.  While Marquette was doing better than Nova at keeping track of the ball, Marquette can't really afford to be worse than they were last year at unforced errors.

Up Next: Marquette takes their 0-1 Big East record to New Jersey next Saturday for their only Big East encounter ever with Rutgers.  The Scarlet Knights (6-3, 1-1 Big East) will be part of the start up of Big Ten lacrosse next season, and they're coming off of a 17-11 loss at #5 Denver yesterday.

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