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Square Peg Into A Round Hole: #17 Marquette 87, RV Villanova 74

I’m not entirely sure that what the Golden Eagles did on Monday afternoon should have worked, but it did, just long enough for them to shake off their two game skid.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Marquette Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

You guys ever watched Apollo 13? The Tom Hanks movie about the true story of NASA’s flying to the moon near-disaster in 1970? Do you remember the scene where Mission Control realizes 1) the carbon dioxide levels are climbing, 2) they don’t have enough scrubber filters in the lunar lander, and 3) the scrubbers for the command module don’t work in the LEM because they were made by two different companies for two different purposes? And so, the back room engineers have to, on the fly and as fast as possible, as Ed Harris’ Gene Kranz says, invent a way to get a square peg into a round hole.

Here’s the scene, in two clips:

That was, essentially, how #17 Marquette beat Villanova on Monday afternoon, by a final score of 87-74. Things were not going particularly well on a number of levels and in several different directions, but by the end, they figured out how to take what they had that was working properly and use that to end up with the higher point total at the end of the game.

So, the first half. Villanova leaned into what they wanted to do on offense, firing off 18 of their 29 shots from behind the three-point line. That’s more than they usually shoot, but since they connected on half of their three-pointers, it’s hard to disagree with their decision making.

On the other end of the floor, Marquette couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn..... but only behind the arc. It seems clear that the Golden Eagles saw something in their scout of the Wildcats that they could victimize them with alleyoops and they did that right out of the gate. But they couldn’t hit a three. Kam Jones connected on MU’s second long range attempt of the game, but that came with 13:17 left in the first half, and that put them up 17-16. Marquette missed their next five long range attempts, and the only guy who connected from back there for the rest of the half was Zaide Lowery, who drained a pair on consecutive possessions to pull Marquette even at 33 with 5:28 left before halftime.

This provides us with a fantastic point: Marquette ended the first 20 minutes shooting 3-for-12 from behind the arc.... but thanks to some good defense by Ben Gold leading to a blocked three-pointer by Justin Moore and some quick thinking and acting by Tyler Kolek for a layup to beat the horn, MU led 43-40 at intermission. Why? Remember when I mentioned the alleyoops? Yeah, so! Marquette shot 17-for-20 — THAT IS NOT A TYPO — inside the arc in the first half. Three first half dunks, all by Oso Ighodaro. Eight layups, as officially marked in the live stats, including four by Kam Jones.

Through all of this? Marquette didn’t even attempt a free throw in the first 20 minutes. 20 shots inside the arc, three fouls by Villanova.

Again: Not everything was working properly for Marquette, but some things were working just fine, and they made the best use of what they had.

Second half: Marquette shot 13-for-20 inside the arc. Not as great as 17-for-20, but no one’s turning their nose up at 65% either. Also working: Getting Stevie Mitchell back in the game. He picked up two fouls kind of rapid fire in the first half and sat out the final 10:38. 45 seconds into the second half, Mitchell recorded his first of three steals after the break, and his general disruptive nature helped Marquette prompt the Wildcats into eight total turnovers after halftime. That’s twice as many as they had in the first half.

Offense, doing what it was good at in the first half. Defense, ratcheting up the pressure. Those two things plus a little bit of “the universe said for you to cool it” led to Villanova shooting just 5-for-15 from beyond the arc in the second half. That cooldown — not a cold spell, 33% is just fine — cracked the door open a little bit further for Marquette.

It was clear things were getting going in a good way just over two minutes into the second half when David Joplin rained in a three-pointer to cap a 7-0 burst to open up the scoring coming out of the locker room. That’s a 50-40 Marquette lead, but again, this thing wasn’t securely running by a long shot. An Eric Dixon bucket cut the margin to just five points, 52-47, with 15:10 to go. Brendan Hausen hit two of three free throw attempts to make it a four point game at the 13:21 mark. Those two guys both hit three-pointers 44 seconds apart, and boom, all tied up at 57 with 10 minutes to go.

Marquette answered with a 12-0 run. All on twos and freebies. Eight of the points came from Tyler Kolek, who was not having a good game before this. 69-57 MU with 5:47 to go.... but again, this thing was not flying smoothly. Villanova was able to punch back, because while Marquette was getting stops regularly, they weren’t stringing them together like they want to. 14-8 over a 3:37 stretch favoring the Wildcats, and it was a six point game, 77-71, after Mark Armstrong cashed in a three-pointer to answer what seemed like a monster three by Kolek — his only make on five attempts — just seconds earlier.

The clock passed two minutes to play, and Marquette had a lead but no one felt safe.

10-0 run for Marquette, including a dagger dunk by Stevie Mitchell and capped by a pair of free throws from Kolek after the Wildcats fouled to extend the game. While trailing by 14 with 28 seconds to go. Coming eight seconds after a timeout and a missed three by Armstrong.

Kyle Neptune earned the permanent wrath of this blog for that nonsense.

Marquette by 16. Game over.

By the way, eventually, at the end? MU shot 4-for-11 behind the arc in the second half. 36.4%. That’ll work, y’all. Perhaps the shooting funk is behind us.

Kam Jones led Marquette with 22 points, and he tacked on six rebounds and four assists, too. He just barely beat out Tyler Kolek for high honors on the day, as Kolek finished with a double-double on 21 points and 11 assists along with five rebounds and two steals. He was not having a good game, but after 40 minutes, he clearly did have one. Oso Ighodaro ran wild with the alleyoops, putting up 18 points on 9-for-11 shooting and adding a team high in rebounds with seven and steals with three. Oh, and he dealt out five assists.

How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and Fox Sports?

Up Next: Marquette is off until the weekend when they’ll be back out on the road for their next game. On Saturday, they’ll be in New York City and at Madison Square Garden for a showdown with St. John’s. Tip time on Fox is set for 11am Central time on that one. The Red Storm lost their most recent game, falling at Creighton to snap a four game winning streak, and they’ll visit Seton Hall on Tuesday night.