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Villanova drops fifth-straight with 85-80 loss to Marquette

The Wildcats fell into an early hole, made an improbable comeback, but couldn’t hang on.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Villanova Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Much like the last time Villanova was home, against the UConn Huskies, the Wildcats buried themselves quickly in a slow start.

They were down 11-0 for the first five minutes of the game and lagged behind the Marquette Golden Eagles, with the deficit growing as large as 20 points. ‘Nova Nation was hoping for an easier road to redemption from recent losses due to a couple of key Marquette absences, Kam Jones and Sean Jones being out with injuries, but that simply was not the case.

Despite all that, the Wildcats managed to fight back and even gain the lead midway through the second half, but they couldn’t hang on and lost, 85-80.

“Marquette played extremely hard from the start, got out to that lead,” Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said in his opening remarks. “They made some crucial, crucial plays down the stretch to seal the deal. ... We got to come out, set the tone and get stops. We just couldn’t get stops, start the games, we just couldn’t get it done. Couldn’t get rebounds, keep them out of the paint or get stops.”

Marquette took its largest lead of the game, with a three-pointer to make it 37-17 with five minutes left in the first half.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily confidence, but I would say we have to be a little more desperate,” Bamba said. “With these slow starts, you gotta be more desperate.”

It is clear that Nova Nation is frustrated with the slow starts, as well, going so far as to boo Neptune at several tense points throughout the game.

“My job is to come out and try to prepare these guys the best I possibly can,” Neptune said, when asked about the boos. “That’s what I’m gonna continue to do.”

The ‘Cats didn’t roll over though, as T.J. Bamba and Mark Armstrong lit a spark and helped Villanova dig out of the massive hole.

Both players made key plays on both ends of the court and helped Villanova close out the first half with momentum. The ‘Cats followed their lead to start the second half, as Villanova managed to gain a 34-10 run over the Golden Eagles that spanned over a 10-minute stretch that spilled through both halves.

“Mark kind of sparked us a little bit,” Neptune said. “He made some tough shots, and was guarding. And, really, we got some stops that helped us transition.”

Armstrong racked up a total of 16 points and eight rebounds, while TJ Bamba and Eric Dixon contributed an additional 24 points each.

While the second half appeared to be promising with the ‘Cats managing to get their first lead, the turnaround was short-lived, and the Golden Eagles hit back harder than ever. ‘Nova’s defense was inconsistent, and its offensive streaks were not enough to redeem the ‘Cats from their painful start.

Marquette’s Tyler Kolek made five out of his eight attempted 3-point shots, which were critical for his team to take the lead once again. He finished with a career-high 32 points.

According to Marquette coach Shaka Smart, he was also returning from injury and had only been in one practice before tonight’s game.

Tyler Burton fouled Marquette’s Chase Ross behind the three-point line, which helped the Golden Eagles cut into the deficit as he buried all three.

Then, Kolek hit back-to-back threes with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game, which would give Marquette the lead for good.

As Villanova drops its fifth-straight, it begs the question if the NCAA Tournament is still a possibility for the ‘Cats.

“Right now, we just got to continue to get better,” Neptune said. “We need to evaluate ourselves by the end of the season. It’s a long year, and there’s a lot of basketball left.”

How does Villanova plan on stopping the five-game losing skid?

“We just got to get together as a unit and change,” said Neptune, when asked how to stop a slump based on his experiences. “It’s all the little things. It’s just one thing when coaching, it’s not just one thing like handling the ball, or getting a few rebounds, it’s literally everything. We’ve gotta play harder, play as a unit more, and be more locked into the scouting report and do what we do better.”

Villanova drops to 11-10 overall and 4-6 in Big East play. It returns to action when it faces off against Providence College at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, Feb. 4, 6:00 PM EST.