In the first game without veteran Phil Booth (out indefinitely with a broken hand), the #1 Wildcats survived a hard fought battle against Marquette, 85-82.
After defeating the Golden Eagles 100-90 at Wells Fargo a few weeks ago, Marquette was out for vengeance back home. Of course, last season almost to the day Marquette knocked off the then #1 Wildcats at home 74-72.
Donte Divincenzo had a hot start to the game, dropping 10 points in the first 4 minutes of action, but wouldn’t score for the rest of the half. Both teams started off shooting well and finished the half shooting above 50%.
Jalen Brunson and Eric Paschall lead the charge early, building a 12 point lead with a little under 10 minutes left. As expected, Marquette’s Marcus Howard and Andrew Rowsey were causing trouble for the Wildcats defensively. The Wildcats didn’t seem to be missing Booth as much offensively as they were on the defensive side.
Marquette stormed back with an 11-0 run to take a 2 point lead with a few minutes left, but not to be outdone, ‘Nova put together a little run of their own in the final minutes of the half to take a 49-44 lead.
The 5 point halftime lead was immediately squashed just a minute into the second half as Marquette scored 6 quick points and took a 50-49 lead. Brunson took charge again, putting some Marquette defenders through the spin cycle and scored 10 straight points to give the ‘Cats a 61-52 lead.
Marcus Howard picked up his fourth foul with over 13 minutes left in the half, forcing him to the bench for a few minutes but would play the majority of the rest of the game.
The world stopped spinning for a brief moment when Brunson came down awkwardly on his ankle midway through the half and hobbled off to the bench. He came back into the game a few minutes later looking a little gimpy but given Villanova’s recent injuries it is something worth keeping an eye on after the game.
Meanwhile, Marquette’s Rowsey drained back-to-back three-pointers to cut the Villanova lead to 3, but Brunson responded with another layup that sent him falling to the floor and Divincenzo followed up with a tough three point play.
The Wildcats took an 82-77 point lead into the final two minutes of the game when Rowsey picked up his fourth foul, but responded on the next possession with a three-pointer to cut the lead to 2. A missed three pointer from Brunson lead to a clutch offensive rebound from Mikal Bridges and nifty dish to Divincenzo for the bucket to make it a two possession game with 15 seconds left. A missed three-pointer from Sam Hauser and a clutch block from Bridges put the ribbon on the game.
For Marquette, Rowsey finished with 29 points, Howard added 14 and Marcus Howard finished with 13. For the ‘Cats, Brunson tied his career high once again with 31 points, while Divincenzo added 23, and Bridges added 16 points and 4 rebounds. Paschall and Omari Spellman had 8 rebounds each, but Spellman had a rough day down low and finished with 2 points.
Quick takeaway: Jalen Brunson is absolutely filthy. He dropped 31 points, matching his season high and his third 30+ game this season, and finishes averaging 20.4 PPG in the month of January. He loves the pressure of a tight game and once again showed that he can always be trusted when the team needs him to come through.
A less exciting takeaway: Villanova’s bench scored a whopping 3 points today. Freshmen Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree combined for 36 minutes of action while logging 3 points (Cosby-Roundtree picked up 4 fouls as well). Jay commented after the game that Marquette was throwing stuff at them that Booth would have been able to handle, but Gillespie could not. The freshmen will be relied on more heavily in the next few weeks without Booth, and they will be forced to fill that void and provide quality minutes and points from the bench.
The Wildcats improve to 20-1 on the season and keep first place in the Big East. They return home Thursday for another tough match-up against Creighton at 6:30. Virginia could overtake the Wildcats for the #1 spot come Monday after they took down Duke 65-63 yesterday (the VUHoops staff seems split on who will come out #1).