When your best player just today celebrated his 19th birthday, when you start two other freshmen and a sophomore to boot, and when your coach is still rounding into form in just his second year at the controls, you expect there to be a certain amount of ebbs and flows in a college basketball season. You expect there to be some turds (like a 30-point pantsing at home to Iowa) and some gems (like a last-minute road win over Providence). What we hadn't seen from YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles to this point were the really high highs and the super low lows all in one game.
But that's what we got tonight, as MU ferociously battled back from an early 16-point deficit to take the lead at the break, only to wilt in the second half en route to an oddly-encouraging, "it could have been worse but then it could have been better but then it could have been MUCH worse" loss to the Wildcats of Villanova.
A steal and layup right off the bat from Haanif Cheatham got Marquette off on the right foot tonight, but MU soon found itself on the receiving end of a devastating counterpunch from 'Nova: first Kris Jenkins hit a 3, then Jalen Brunson followed suit, and then Jenkins hit from deep again, and then Brunson followed suit again, and suddenly Marquette was on the wrong end of an 18-4 margin. More bombs from Ryan Arcidiacono (btw: leave already) and Phil Booth ballooned the advantage to 16 for VU, and, at that point, you kinda maybe understood where Vegas was coming from when 'Nova was installed as 16.5-point favorites coming into the contest.
But YOUR plucky Golden Eagles responded, and not just with something like a 7-0 spurt to keep the deficit more respectable heading into the break. No, sir: Marquette got things within single digits on Cheatham's corner 3 with 7 minutes to play in the half, and then 4 on back-to-back buckets from birthday boy Henry Ellenson, and then knotted things up on Traci Carter's triple with 3:44 until intermission. And when Ellenson headily followed Carter's miss in the waning seconds of the half, Marquette somehow had the lead at 38-37, and visions of a second-straight road win over a top 10 team were dancing in our heads.
But, sadly, that was as good as things would get for MU. After getting back in the game by working the paint and getting great looks from 3-point range, Marquette fell back into its frustrating habit of chucking with abandon in the second half, and the results weren't pretty. MU didn't connect from deep until the final 4 minutes of the game, and by then Villanova had run away and hid, using 7 points each from Arcidiacono (btw: seriously leave) and Jenkins to fuel a 20-2 spurt that made things academic. Sandy Cohen III hit a late 3 to draw Marquette within 9, but MU proceeded to turn the ball over twice in the next minute after coming up with steals on the defensive end, and that was that. Marquette covers, but Villanova wins, 83-68.
Oh: because we have to mention it (because maybe it could change if people keep mentioning it, even though it almost assuredly won't), the officiating was terrible. Again. Please save this line so we can recycle it for the next game.
Cheatham led Marquette with 17, although he needed 14 shots to get there, and Ellenson added 12 and 8 boards. Jenkins was a monster for 'Nova with 20, and Brunson chipped in 14.
With the loss, Marquette falls to 12-5 on the year and 2-3 in the BIG EAST. Villanova remains atop the conference with a 5-0 mark and a 15-2 record overall, and I still really want Arcidiacono to leave.
Xavier is next.