That…hurt. I blame last year for getting my expectations up (we took a look back at that game here), but Marquette certainly did nothing to lessen them as Andrew Rowsey (29 points on 8-16, 5-9 from 3, 8-9 from the line) cut Villanova’s lead to 3 with 1:33 remaining. I had to check myself before I wrecked myself, though, because as improbable as last year was, pulling this off seemed a bit more out of reach, IMHO.
Turns out, I was right. Jalen Brunson (31 points on 10-19, and who would get my vote for National Player of the Year) shockingly missed a jumper with about a minute to go, and Marquette had the ball with a chance to tie, but somehow the ball ended up in Greg Elliott’s hands, who then shoveled a pass to Sacar Anim as he prepared to go up for what would’ve been a very contested layup. The only problem was that, as Anim went up with the ball, the ball decided to not go up with him, as Mikal Bridges punched it out of his hands and back to Villanova. Still only down 3, hope remained for the Golden Eagles. That is, until Bridges rebounded a Brunson 3-pointer and passed it off to Dante DiVincenzo, who scored to ice the game.
So, folks, 85-82 is your final score. Marquette drops two games to Villanova by a combined deficit of 13. Which, in all honesty, is not that bad, considering Villanova is the #1 team in the country. C’est la vie.
*watches the court storming from last year*
WOULDA BEEN NICE.
Let’s talk about the game.
It followed a pretty simple pattern for most of the game. Villanova would stretch a lead out to 8-12 points. Marquette would get on a run to chip it down to a slimmer margin, even taking the lead a couple of times. Villanova would break the will and spirit of every Marquette player, coach and fan by hitting big shots in tight situations to keep themselves out of the corner.
Towards the end of the first half, Marquette was able to take the lead after Jamal Cain hit a couple of 3s (get your ticket for the Cain Train before it departs from the station. Single-file line, please), but the Wildcats converted a few quick scoring opportunities to go into the locker room with a 5-point lead. I felt pretty good at halftime, to be honest. Markus Howard was playing well (he would miss every shot he took in the second half), Villanova wasn’t even trying to play defense and guys like Cain and Harry Froling were stepping up.
The second half was like a tennis match of scoring runs. Rowsey and Anim did much of the offensive work, and, like Villanova, Marquette opted to not play anything remotely resembling defense.
I’m going to rank my favorite Marquette defensive strategies
1. Playing defense
2. Not playing defense
Anyways, yeah, every time as Marquette pushed into the lead and made a move to take control, Villanova answered. It was pretty demoralizing, to be honest, but that’s what the best teams in the country do. I’ll tip my hat to Marquette for keeping it that close. They played hard. It was frustrating, yes, what with the foul situation (i.e. Marquette could not not foul) and Howard’s disappearance after the break, but there were bright spots too! Sacar Anim continues to go hard to the rack all the time, for better or worse, but today it was better and he finished with 14 points on 7-9 shooting. Harry Froling got the start (feel like I should’ve mentioned that earlier), and finished with 11 points and is still maybe the 3rd or 4th best passer on the team. Sam Hauser continued to be all over the court making plays despite not shooting as much as he should have. Gotta look at that silver lining! I still think they’re in good position for the NCAA Tournament.
The coming week will be a good test with Butler (January 31) and Providence (February 3) coming to town. I don’t want to call them must-wins, but they’re definitely shouldn’t-loses.