I thought the big question heading into Saturday's men's lacrosse game between Marquette and #6 Villanova was "Can the Golden Eagles play enough defense against the #2 scoring offense in the country to make it a game?"
Cole Blazer made 13 saves in his first career start as MU limited the Big East's most prolific offense to more than 20 fewer shots than their season average, allowing the Golden Eagles to run away and hide with an 11-3 win over the nationally ranked Wildcats. The Wildcats also came away empty on four extra man opportunitities after coming in with a conversion rate just under 30%.
It's the first ever win for Marquette against a team ranked in the top 10 in a national poll, and gives MU a massive feather in their cap when it comes to positioning for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Golden Eagles are now 7-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big East, which has them technically alone in first place. Officially, I suppose they're in a tie with Denver and Providence, who are both 1-0 after wins on Saturday.
The big splash was made in the first quarter, where Marquette outshot Villanova, 12-5. Eight of those 12 shots found their way on frame, and four of those eight beat VU goalie Nick Testa, making his first start of the season. I don't really know why Villanova head coach Michael Corrado decided to blame Dan Willis, his usual starting goalie for the 11 first half goals that VU gave up to #3 Brown on Tuesday, but hey, it benefited Marquette so I'm not going to complain. The four shots that beat Testa all came in the final nine minutes of the period as it took Marquette a few minutes to get things up and rolling.
Ryan McNamara got things started in the scoring department at the 8:43 mark of the first quarter, and two goals 11 seconds apart from Tanner Thomson and Jacob Richard made the score a shocking 4-0 at the end of the first period. Things went completely off the rails when Marquette scored the first three goals of the second quarter, including two more strikes from McNamara to make it 7-0 with 4:29 left in the second quarter. Again, Villanova had the second best scoring offense in the country coming into this game, and the Golden Eagles just ran them out of the state for the first 25 minutes of the game.
The second quarter is when Blazer proved his mettle and may have stolen Jimmy Danaher's starting job for good. Villanova outshot Marquette 16-8 in the second period, and Blazer made seven saves to keep the Wildcats off the board until they did get a goal with less than a minute left in the half. They also got the first goal of the second half, but Conor Gately answered that one for Marquette, beating Willis who had stepped in to replace Testa after the intermission. Devin McNamara would get a goal for the Wildcats with 5:17 left in the third, but that would be it for the day for Villanova.
McNamara's fourth goal of the game came midway through the fourth quarter, and if that goal didn't ice the game, Zachary Melillo adding a goal to his 12-for-17 day on faceoffs eight seconds after the McNamara goal definitely did. Gately added one last insurance goal with 4:47 remaining, and all that was left at that point was just burning out the rest of the clock.
B.J. Grill did what he does: taking on the opponent's best scoring threat and destroying their will to live. VU's Jake Froccaro came into the game as the best goal scorer in the country in terms of average, and Grill and his defensive friends held Froccaro to.... one assist and five shots. For the record: Froccaro was averaging more than 14 shots per game heading into this game.
McNamara finished with four goals, which gives him 26 on the season, just 10 short of the Marquette single season record with five regular season games left to play. McNamara has now surpassed Kyle Whitlow for the second most goals in a career, and his 66 markers are trailing only Conor Gately, who scored twice in this contest to move his program record out to 74 goals.
Up Next: The Golden Eagles look to maintain their forward progress as they take to the road for the first time in Big East play. They'll be out in New York next Saturday to face off with St. John's in a game that will be televised on ESPN3. The Red Storm are 1-9 on the season with five straight losses after dropping their Big East opener to Providence, 15-10.