No matter the record, a Big East contest on the road is always a difficult proposition. Villanova’s bout with Marquette on Saturday afternoon proved no different. Despite a feisty and game Golden Eagle (11-15, 3-11) team, led by JaJuan Johnson’s 20 point outburst, the Wildcats (25-2, 12-2) were able to escape with an 87-76 win. Darrun Hilliard II once again led his team with 17 points.
In stark contrast to the team’s first meeting this season, where the opening ten minutes of play yielded only a combined 18 points, round two began with a bang. Sandy Cohen III, starting in place of the still-injured Matt Carlino, connected from beyond the arc on the Golden Eagles’ first attempt from the field. For a team that often struggles to put points on the board, a hot Sandy Cohen would prove crucial.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, Darrun Hilliard continued his hot shooting at the onset of the game. A three pointer of his own along with three more points from the charity stripe accelerated the Wildcats forward.
After four minutes, Villanova narrowly stood ahead 11-10.
However, the game would soon reacquire the familiar taste of a Big East affair. A tightening of their defense, along with some unexploited open looks from the Golden Eagles, allowed the team in blue to stretch a slight lead.
Luke Fischer was effective in his limited opportunities during February 4th battle. Yet, in this afternoon’s edition, Coach Wright clearly planned a tactic to combat him. Each time the transfer from Indiana looked to put the ball on the ground in the post, the Wildcats sent a second defender from the perimeter to pester Fischer’s dribble.
With the rest of his team struggling to put the ball in the basket, JayVaughn Pinkston picked up the offensive load for Villanova. Decisive attacks and active hands on the offensive glass reminded Wildcat fans how deadly the senior can be when in attack mode. Pinkston notched eight of Villanova’s thirteen points as the Wildcats jumped to a 26-22 advantage.
Not all members of the Villanova frontcourt enjoyed pleasant starts to the game, however. Daniel Ochefu, scoreless and with only two boards, picked up his second personal foul under the basket with six minutes remaining. Frustrations seemed to boil over as the center and Duane Wilson exchanged words and, ultimately, received a double-technical penalty. The technical counted as Ochefu’s third foul. With their relatively struggles with the jump shot, his absence could have been deadly for Wildcats.
But Villanova was quick to flash their versatility. Kris Jenkins pocketed a corner three on a designed inbound play and Phil Booth added a tough transition layup to help plug the void left by Ochefu. It should be noted at how effective Booth's dribble drive game has become. The freshman can get to the rim at will and, once he arrives, is able to finish in a variety of manners.
After the tit-for-tat style of play that characterized the majority of the first half, Villanova blasted the game open with a 12-0 run behind three pointers from Hilliard and Dylan Ennis. Ennis played an excellent overall game, filling up the stat sheet with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in addition to his always present defensive effort.
Their lead stood at 41-27 with two minutes remaining.
Marquette was able to garner some momentum before the end of the half as they capitalized on some Villanova turnovers and poor defense. Despite their inconsistent play, the Wildcats counted themselves lucky to enter the locker room with a 43-34 lead. Hilliard paced all scorers with 14 points at half.
The torrid rhythm by which the first half opened was matched at the start of the second. Back to back three pointers by Arcidiacono quickly silenced the sellout crowd. The Wildcats would go on to make their first four attempts from beyond the arc. Arcidiacono finished with 16 points.
Two free throws from Daniel Ochefu extended Villanova’s advantage to 62-46.
Marquette did their best to hang tough despite the growing Wildcat lead. And they certainly were not lacking opportunities to add fuel to their potential comeback. But shooting 60% (15-25) from the free throw line, including multiple misses on the front end of one and ones, made it near impossible to make any serious threat.
Fouls began to pile up for both team midway through the second half. Arcidiacono and Ochefu both found themselves on the bench with four fouls with nearly ten minutes remaining.
Despite constant probes from the Golden Eagles to get back into the game, the second half was consistently controlled by the Wildcats. On multiple occasions, Marquette would cut the league to within 10 only to be promptly quelled by a timely Villanova basket.
Balance was once again on full display for the sixth ranked team in the country. Four starters exceeded double digits and Jenkins, Josh Hart, and Phil Booth all scored at least six points off the bench. Villanova shot an exceptional 52% (11-21) from beyond downtown for the game.
In the end, the toughness and veteran play displayed by the Wildcats was too much for the upstart Golden Eagles. While his team may not have been on their "A" game, Coach Wright has to be satisfied to leave the state of Wisconsin with a double-digit win. Marquette is well coached and the combination of travel time and tired legs could have poised Villanova for an upset. But, as they have shown the ability to time and time again this season, Darrun Hilliard and company did exactly what was needed to get the win.