The Villanova Wildcats seemed unfazed and confident in a hostile environment, taking it to the No. 14 Marquette Golden Eagles — but then the last six minutes happened.
Like numerous times throughout the season, another close back-and-forth game slipped away from the ‘Cats in crunch time. Villanova held a narrow four-point lead, until Marquette took control of the final six minutes and stormed ahead to win 71-64.
“They just made some tough plays down the stretch, some offensive rebounds, just the little things,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “Throughout that entire game, it was a one or two possession game, it could be a rebound, it could be a charge, a dive — we look at the entire game. They’re a really good team, they just made more plays than us.”
The Wildcats only had two made shots in the final eight minutes of action. Only one of those came during Marquette’s game-changing and sealing 16-3 run over the last 6:17 of the game, a Caleb Daniels dunk with 10 seconds remaining, when the game was already out of reach.
Eric Dixon went 1-of-2 at the line to give the Wildcats their last lead of the game, a 62-61 edge with 4:47 left. Marquette’s Tyler Kolek put the Golden Eagles ahead on their next possession, draining a couple of free throws.
From there, the ‘Cats went cold, but they remained strong defensively, until Marquette was finally able to make it a two-possession game and pull away in the final minute of action. Villanova was unable to crack the Havoc defense late, while Marquette had the timely points to clinch the victory and hold firm atop the Big East standings.
“They just played harder, they were nasty,” Neptune said of Marquette’s second-half effort. “They got in passing lanes, they got some deflections. They’re just a tough, nasty team.”
It was a close game from the start, with neither team leading by double figures. The ‘Cats clung onto a 35-34 lead, after Justin Moore buried a three-pointer with less than five seconds left, only to have Kam Jones’ long-range heave drop at the halftime buzzer.
In addition to the cold-shooting late, turnovers doomed the ‘Cats. They gave the ball up 19 times in the loss. Foul trouble was also an issue too, with Cam Whitmore, Brandon Slater and Dixon all dealing with fouls.
“They took the game, we had other guys and we had the lead in the first half,” Neptune said. “I thought we played better in the first half, so (foul trouble) had no effect.”
Dixon and Daniels led the ‘Cats with 14 points apiece. Daniels also had four boards, three assists and five turnovers, while Dixon shot 6-of-8, chipped in six boards, one assist, a steal and four turnovers. Brendan Hausen heated up off the bench, scoring 12 points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc. Moore had all nine of his points in the first half, but also finished with four rebounds, four assists and three turnovers.
For Marquette, Tyler Kolek had a game-high 20 points, with five boards, six assists, three steals and just two turnovers. Kam Jones added 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting. Oso Ighodaro had 10 points, three boards, two steals and a block. Philadelphia native Stevie Mitchell chipped in eight points, five rebounds and two steals.
“They do so many things well,” Neptune said of Marquette. “They’ve got a bunch of decision-makers, their entire team makes great decisions. They don’t take a lot of bad shots. They share the ball. Defensively, they’re very connected.”
With the loss, Villanova falls to 10-12 overall and 4-7 in Big East play. They will resume their midwest road trip at Creighton on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.