Both Villanova and Marquette entered their Big East matchup with their own winning streaks, but Wednesday night belonged to the Golden Eagles.
The Golden Eagles defeated the Wildcats in their own building, 57-54, extending their win streak to five and snapping Villanova’s six-game winning streak.
Marquette forward Justin Lewis, the star of the game, capped off his 21-point performance with a long range three to put his team up with 11.9 seconds remaining.
Villanova tried to salvage the game. Collin Gillespie handed the ball off to Justin Moore, the only Wildcat in a rhythm from deep, for a chance at a three to tie the game. The shot was unsuccessful, and Eric Dixon and Jermaine Samuels tried to rebound and tap the ball out to a teammate.
With both teams scrambling for the loose ball, it was swatted away to the other side of the court, Gillespie chucked up the ball for a miracle that was not answered and the Golden Eagles got their first-ever win at the Pavilion.
“Great Big East basketball game, tough, physical game and both teams played great,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I give Marquette a lot of credit. They played great defensively. Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell were outstanding. Elliott hit big shots in the second half. That was the difference. You look back at a game like that, every possession becomes critical. They made more positive possessions which is why they won, we battled until the end.”
The game went back and forth for all 40 minutes, momentum constantly shifting, both teams having their moments.
The Shaka Smart-led Golden Eagles saw quality performances by forward Lewis and guard Darryl Morsell. Villanova tried to impose their will physically, and Marquette would not have it. Smart utilized his personnel to create a very effective man press defense that rattled Villanova on the perimeter, causing them to only shoot 25% from deep compared to Marquette’s 44.8%.
Morsell helped subside any potential early Villanova spark, making several explosive early plays. It was a grind-fest, as Villanova trailed by one point at the half.
“He’s put together a really good team really quickly,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Smart and his Golden Eagles. “They play really good and they play well together, they stuck together. I gotta give credit to this team, they’ve come together very quickly. That’s not easy to do.”
The Wildcats appeared to be gaining momentum right after the break, using a 12-0 run to take a 45-36 lead with 10:53 remaining in the game, a stretch topped off by a Moore three-pointer.
However, Marquette rumbled back into the game, and the ‘Cats went cold down the stretch. Villanova was limited to just three points for the final 7:32 of play.
“They’re long and athletic, so they were doing a good job of denying ball screens and making it tough for us to make decisions,” Gillespie said.
Eric Dixon paced the ‘Cats with 15 points and five boards. Moore added 13 points. Gillespie finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Jermaine Samuels had eight points and 10 rebounds.
“I just felt like we weren’t executing the way we wanted to, and we wanted to keep some veterans guy in there,” Wright said of the short rotation. “That was definitely part of what went on down the stretch.”
For Marquette, Lewis had seven rebounds to go along with his high-scoring night. He shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc. Greg Elliott was big off the bench, finishing with 14 points and he made each of his last four shots. Darryl Morsell had 10 points and six boards.
Despite the loss, there were some bright spots for Villanova.
Eric Dixon continues to refine his skills as a big man, establishing himself as the one and true “pure center”. He demonstrated a sense of patience and floor awareness against the taller, wider-wingspan Marquette players, knowing exactly when to pump fake and/or shift his feet - knowing when not to dunk and just settle for the easy lay-up. His shoulders and frame played a big role in being able to keep up with the size-advantage of the Golden Eagles in the paint.
Shooters shot early - Justin Moore opened the first half with 10 points going 2-4 from beyond the arc, finished with 3 points on the night. His ferocity on the perimeter made him the primary scoring threat on Jay’s squad, allowing Gillespie to take more of a true commander role. All of the usual shooters came out and fired early in order to set the tone: a slow game with high scoring urgency. Marquette stood up to the challenge the whole way through, making 13 for the night.
“They hit a lot of threes, but they hit a lot of timely threes,” Wright said. “The 13 threes were big, but when we started to separate, they hit their threes. Gotta give them credit for that.”
Villanova falls to 13-5 overall and 6-2 in conference play. The Wildcats will look to bounce back against the Hoyas on Saturday.