On New Year’s Eve, Villanova fans filled the stands of the Finneran Pavillion to close 2022 out by cheering on the ‘Cats in their Big East battle against the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Much like this calendar year overall, which saw plenty of fireworks, highs and lows, the ‘Cats played strong early but ran out of gas towards the end and met defeat at the hands of the Golden Eagles, 68-66.
“[Marquette] is just a really well-coached team,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They take all the time and try to take away your strengths and play extremely hard and make it hard to get to the rim, and also do the job of taking the threes, so they’re just a really well-coached, hard-playing team.”
The Wildcats’ downfall came in the second half and culminated in them missing two potentially game-changing shots in the last 20 seconds, including Eric Dixon’s turnaround jump shot attempt to salvage the game at the final buzzer. The Golden Eagles defended the rim and wouldn’t allow the ‘Cats to take the lead.
“The team has a lot of good players,” Neptune said. “You know, they can get it going. [Mitchell] is a great player and he definitely made some key shots.”
The Golden Eagles played a scrappy game, with game highlights coming from Stevie Mitchell and Kam Jones, scoring 19 and 14 points respectively.
Players from both teams threw their bodies into the game and often ended up sprawling across the court to duke it out for each and every shot made. Neither team led by double figures throughout the entirety of the game.
Much like the UConn game from last Wednesday, the Wildcats’ downfall was the sheer number of turnovers and poor execution in the second half.
Marquette took care of the ball with only 8 turnovers versus 13 from Villanova, which eventually gave the Golden Eagles the lead and eventual win in the second half.
The ‘Cats took a 44-39 lead at the break. They then extended the margin to as high as nine to open the second half. Marquette gradually chipped away, before the tide eventually turned.
Villanova only made two shots in the final eight minutes of play, a stretch where Whitmore was mostly on the bench until the final 30 seconds of play.
Chris Arcidiacono hit a three to tie the game at 66, with 3:42 to go, the final scoring play for the ‘Cats for the remainder of the game.
“[The decision] was just a feel in the game at that point in time,” Neptune said of the decision to keep Whitmore on the bench for a majority of the second half. “We were trying to keep guys fresh, you know. I think only a couple of guys played over 30 minutes.”
Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored the go-ahead basket for Marquette, a dunk that gave the Golden Eagles a 68-66 lead with 1:42 remaining.
Freshman Cam Whitmore made his long-awaited starting five debut this season, scoring the first seven points of the game and finished with 14 points overall. The projected NBA Draft top-10 pick solidified his hype with the strong start, but saw limited action in the second half.
Aside from Whitmore, Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon were right behind with 13 points apiece. Chris Arcidiacono and Brandon Slater also played supporting roles, contributing eight points each.
“I was really proud of the way we came out,” Neptune said. “We were trying to execute a game plan. We did a good job the first couple of minutes and give Marquette a lot of credit. They came back at us and ended up taking the lead and played a really good second half.”
With the loss Villanova drops to 7-7 overall and 1-2 in Big East play. The Wildcats will resume action on the road at Georgetown. Tip-off is scheduled for Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. ET.
“You know, if we had won this game, we would have to still get better,” Neptune said to close. “Our mission doesn’t change, right? It’s trying to be the best team we can be by the end of the season.”