The Wildcats needed a big win in their first meeting with a ranked opponent at the Pavilion since the February 2011 meeting with Pittsburgh during ESPN's College Gameday feature. After movement around college basketball pushed the 'Cats back out of many projected NCAA brackets, they needed to upset number-17 Marquette to prove their worth to the selection committee. That committee is going to see a 60-56 victory on the 'Cats resume; grinding out a win after ending the first half even at 22-all.
"Its great to win, you always love to win, but to be able to play with them like that really makes us proud," Villanova's Jay Wright said after the victory.
"I was supposed to be an assistant junior college coach, that's what I was supposed to be," Marquette coach Buzz Williams joked, "and I may end up there real soon."
Villanova will be no worse than .500 in the Big East conference at the end of this season, a big turnaround from last season's 5-13 finish. At 18-10 overall and 9-6 in the Big East, the Wildcats are six spots higher in the conference standings than the coaches had predicted to start the season, and just 2.5 games back from Georgetown at the top.
"We could still pull that off, we have the ability," Wright joked about being picked to finish twelfth before the season.
The crowd took offense to a number of calls by the refereeing crew of Ed Corbett, John Gaffney and NFL-moonlighter Gene Steratore, especially in the first half. The enraged crowd pulled the tiny Pavilion's decible levels up to deafening heights at times during the contest, and the senior night student section helped build the atmosphere.
Neither team was shooting well in the first half, and it took Marquette nearly six minutes of game time before they were able to score from the field. Villanova took an early lead in the game, but never pulled away, and that allowed Marquette to stay close and pull to even by the intermission.
"At 22-22 at halftime, there's really no adjustments to make," Wright said. "You know they're going to grind the hell out of you — you're going to get tough shots. We were kind of happy with the shots we got in the first half, but you knew you weren't going to get any easier ones there.
"It's a great Big East grind and they make you play that way."
For Marquette, things went downhill in the second half.
Both teams shot well from the field, with Marquette connecting on 60% of their attempts, but they made just 25% from deep, while the Wildcats were allowed to make 40%. Villanova also heated up from the floor generally, making 56.5% overall and getting to the free-throw line 5 times.
While Marquette beat Villanova on the boards — an advantage that Wright attributed to MU's perimeter speed — the Wildcats were ahead of the curve on turnovers, with the visitors coughing the ball up 19 times, including 10 turnovers in the crucial second-half. Villanova committed just 10 turnovers in the entire game, and just four after the break.
"If the winner has 60 points and you have 19 turnovers and you out-rebound them by 13 and you're shooting 60% from the field in the second-half and hold them to a staggering 57% from the field, that's hard to overcome," Williams said of the game. "30% of your possessions you turn it over and 30% of their points are coming from the free-throw line. Those numbers are, that's a conglomeration of numbers that is hard to overcome."
On senior night, it was a sophomore who led the way for Villanova, with Darrun Hilliard lighting up for 14 points in the second half and 22 points overall, along with 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 rebounds. Ryan Arcidiacono went just 1-of-6 from downtown, but still managed to accumulate 11 points, 3 assists, and no turnovers.
"It can't be about the seniors today," Wright explained. "It's got to be about the next game and playing hard against Marquette.
"Defensively, [Hilliard] has been outstanding guarding a lot of great guards, same with Ryan [Arcidiacono] and Tony Chennault. Vander Blue, Darrun was guarding him and he did an amazing, amazing job. I know he had 22, but you don't win a game like that unless he's defending the way he was defending."
"Arch is like having another upperclassman out there, JayVaughn is still a little up and down, but that's what Arch brings to our team. He's like having another Senior out there.
JayVaughn Pinkston also put up 11 points in the game for the Wildcats.
Senior's Mo Sutton and Mouph Yarou both started the game and were honored during a pre-game ceremony. Sutton played just 3 minutes of game-time, picking up a foul before two minutes had ticked off the clock. Yarou, however, was one of the game's heroes, scoring 10 points, grabbing 7 boards and 2 steals. At the end of the game, both seniors stood on the media table in front of the student section to a mixture of 'V for Villanova' and the roaring ovation of their peers.
The Wildcats avenged last-season's 82-78 loss to Marquette at the Wells Fargo Center. They are now 5-0 all-time against the Golden Eagles at the Pavilion.
Next up, Nova will face a struggling Seton Hall team on the road this Monday, with hopes of reaching a crucial mark of 19 wins.
"We know we can play well and still lose on the road," Wright noted. "[SHU] has been in every game. As long as we’re playing well and we keep getting better, we’ll be OK, we’ll win our share of games."