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Villanova overcomes slow start, beats Marquette, 85-68

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The Wildcats have now won six straight and remain undefeated in Big East play.

NCAA Basketball: AFR Hall of Fame Tip-Off-Virginia Tech at Villanova David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After losing three out of the last four road meetings in Milwaukee against Marquette, the Villanova Wildcats sought to prove that they are a notch above the Golden Eagles.

At first, a hot start from Marquette seemed to catch Villanova by surprise. However, Villanova, being a second half team, quickly took over the game on both ends of the court and ended up pulling away for an 85-68 victory to extend their winning streak to six games.

“That was a really good win,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “This place, it’s definitely an advantage not having these fans here. When we play in here, it’s usually sold out. I don’t know if it’s 20,000—whatever it is—but it’s a lot different playing in here without fans.”

The quick Marquette start led to a fast-paced, back-and-forth first half. The Golden Eagles had their largest lead, 16-11, on the Wildcats early. ‘Nova battled back from the five-point deficit and mostly maintained the lead for the rest of the game.

Marquette put up a good fight and hung in with the ‘Cats, as Villanova took a 36-30 lead into halftime.

However, ‘Nova, being a second-half team, quickly took the game over on both sides of the ball, but it was the defense in the last few minutes of the first half that led to a change of pace for the Villanova team.

“I thought towards the end of the first half, we, we were starting to get connected defensively,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “To start the game, we didn’t. I really don’t have an answer for that yet, but it was really good second half defensive effort.”

The Villanova defense forced 17 turnovers, resulting in the Wildcats taking advantage and scoring 18 points off Marquette’s turnovers.

On the offensive end, Villanova only turned the ball over four times and continued to take great care of the ball as a team.

Caleb Daniels committed three of the Wildcats’ turnovers. Wright is pleased with his team’s efficiency and believes believes his overthinking is to blame for Daniels’ turnovers.

“He’s still thinking a little bit too much out there,” Wright said. “You know, a lot of times, turnovers come when you when you’re hesitant, you know and you’re not sure and the other team’s aggressive and I thought a couple of Caleb’s was turned over tonight we’re hesitancy, and I think he’ll grow out of that as he gets playing time in our system.”

Collin Gillespie spearheaded a strong all-around game for the ‘Cats, with a game-high 22 points and had four assists. He was 7-for-13 overall and 6-of-11 from behind the arc. Gillespie did a great job helping him steam build momentum in the game and made the difference on the offense tonight.

“I was just catching and shooting and playing on my jump shot,” said Gillespie. “Our coaches tell us to catch shoot and play of our jump shot every day. That’s something that we work on so I was doing that today I was getting open shots and guys were finding me so credit to my teammates for finding me. I was just really playing off my jump shot.”

He wasn’t the only Wildcat to score in double figures. Justin Moore provided 14 points. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl finished with 13 points and seven boards. Daniels and Brandon Slater each had 10 points.

Slater and Cole Swider provided a big spark off the bench. The two veteran players changed the defensive game’s pace after Coach Wright called a timeout when Marquette went up by five in the first half.

“Those two are smart, they’re juniors are veterans and know what they’re doing,” Wright said.

Even though Swider only had five points, he impacted the game defensively along with Slater and had a game-high plus/minus rating of +25.

“I think that’s sort of that’s what can make us a special team knowing that we have guys on the bench that are always locked in and ready to come in and play, no matter what,” Robinson-Earl said of the bench effort. “We just got to keep working on it just having setting the tone and having a good start to our games.”

Jamal Cain paced the Golden Eagles with 15 points and seven boards. D.J. Carton and Theo John each had 10 points for Marquette.

Villanova’s win improves to 8-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play. The Wildcats will celebrate Christmas on campus with their families and then get right back to practice to prepare for the game against the Xavier Musketeers on Jan. 2. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. ET.