About an hour and a half before the game, my dad asked me what I thought the result would be.
“Villanova’ll win by 20,” I said. My logic? It’s one of the best teams in the country coming off of a loss with a week of rest. That’s a dangerous concept. Our pals at Big East Coast Bias agreed with me:
Villanova coming off a loss is the best team in college basketball.— Big East Coast Bias (@becb_sbn) January 7, 2018
What’s different this year than last year, my dad wondered, obviously referencing Marquette’s come-from-behind win at home against the No.1-ranked Wildcats.
“Well, first of all it’s at Villanova. Plus, last year, Marquette had (Duane) Wilson, (JaJuan) Johnson, (Katin) Reinhardt, just to name a few.”
What I did not account for was the amount of fight in this year’s Marquette team. They’re just not going to go away against anyone, and despite a 100-90 loss to No. 3 Villanova tonight, that’s still true. I was prepared to have some fun with this recap because I had planned on a FAT L, but instead I’ll keep it short and sweet, since Marquette’s push down the stretch took a lot out of me.
The first half went preeeeetty much as you would expect. The Wildcats made their first three shots of the game, all 3-pointers, and two from Eric Paschall, who came into the game with a grand total of two makes from out there all season. Despite Marquette hitting a decent amount of their shots (41.9% in the first half, 43.8% of their 3s), Villanova was just too efficient and too quick. They shot 62.1 percent from inside the 3-point line in the first half and 50 percent from behind it in the opening half. Villanova’s ball movement was just too much, as they were quick and tight moving the ball around the perimeter, which caused a lot of ball-watching for Marquette and threw their defense out of position. There was often an open corner trey or open man under the basket for the fightin’ Jay Wrights. I know Marquette doesn’t have a lock-down defense, but their heads were spinning going up against a team as deliberate as ‘Nova. Sad! Markus Howard made some shots, and headed into the break with 11 points. Sacar Anim also had a nice half, as he got four buckets from the baseline, one of which earned him an and-1. Other than that, points were fairly hard to come by, and Marquette went to halftime down 46-34.
But then the second half got a little bit weird, and while Marquette continued to be bad on defense, so did Villanova! And so things got pretty interesting. The single, glaringly obvious reason Marquette was able to climb back into it was Markus Howard. After 11 points in the first half, he had 26 in the second, and finished with 37 on 13-27 shooting and 5-13 from 3. His counterpart, Andrew Rowsey, had a fairly miserable game by his standards, finishing with 6 points on 2-12 shooting (2-7 from 3). Eh, that’s a pretty miserable game by anyone’s standards. He didn’t play much of the second half, whether that was because of his poor shooting or a light injury he seemed to sustain when getting knocked to the ground. We’ll keep an eye on that, especially if it was in fact the same leg that got stomped on against Northern Illinois.
Anyways, with Howard leading the way offensively, the Golden Eagles were able to chip back into the lead, which at its height was 17, and cut it to 8 with 10:26 remaining. From there, the teams traded buckets and stops, pretty much matching tit for tat. Yes, I said “tit for tat.” It’s real, you can look it up, it has its own Wikipedia entry. Anyways, Marquette kept the deficit to a manageable amount thanks mostly to Howard, but also featuring some key shots from Anim, Sam Hauser, Greg Elliott and Harry Froling. The lead in the second half got as small as 5 in the final minute of play, but at that point, Marquette had to play the free throw game and Villanova made their foul shots. So, despite a strong surge, Marquette drops this one, as most of us expected, to Villanova. Just not in the fashion that we might have expected at the start of the day.
It’s really nothing the Golden Eagles should hang their heads about. Villanova is one of the best teams in the country (number 2 in my opinion), and they made some gritty plays down the stretch. The young guys are playing, for the most part, within themselves (one note on the first-year wings: literally every time one of them gets the ball in transition, they will not pass, it seems. Like, it’s them and the hoop, and that’s it) and making heady plays on defense. Sure, Howard made the shots, but great defense by Elliott, Anim and Jamal Cain really helped Marquette bring the game within reach. I could really see Cain growing into a Mikal Bridges -type for MU. Maybe not to the extent of the projected lottery pick that Bridges is now, but there are some similarities.
Anyways, the bottom line is that it’s tough to beat this team in this situation. Jalen Brunson had 27 points and 8 assists. Bridges had 18 points, 7 boards and 3 assists. The Wildcats had six guys in double-figures. They hit 27 of their 32 free throws. They assisted on 20 of 32 made shots. That’s because Marquette plays bad defense, yes, but they fight hard enough on offense to keep themselves in it. There is hope!
Another positive: Corner-3 Jamal is still the best shooter in the country, as he was 1-1 from that spot today, which is a scorching-hot 100 percent. JUMP ON THE CAIN TRAIN BEFORE IT LEAVES US ALL IN THE DUST.
Arguably the most positive thing to take away from this game:
If Marquette loses to Villanova tomorrow I will eat a shoe.— Ben (@bensnider94) January 5, 2018
No word on whether he will follow through and own up to this lunacy, but you can be sure that we here at Anonymous Eagle will keep you up to date.
Marquette is back in action against No. 21 Seton Hall on Tuesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
PS: I guess this was Jay Wright’s 400th win at Villanova. If you read this, Coach Wright, congratulations. I’ve always been a big fan of your suits.
Yeah, he’ll see this.