Villanova sent Marquette packing in a 94-70 blow-out win in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals Thursday night, but the first half of the game had peopler in the Garden thinking a different result was possible.
After facing off against one another twice during the regular season, with their last meeting yielding a razor thin 85-82 victory for the Wildcats, Marquette and Villanova faced off for the third time this season in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament.
The contest started off slowly with the conference leaders in field goal percentage, the Golden Eagles, missing their first three shots and the second basket of the game not coming until nearly two and a half minutes into the first quarter, when Markus Howard hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 3. From there on out, though, the first half was a dog fight with the largest lead by ether team until the final two minutes being five, briefly held by Villanova.
The Golden Eagles strategy early in the game was evident, attempting to limit the depth of a Wildcats’ roster that led the NCAA in scoring this year at a clip of 88.0 points per game and features six players in double digit scoring figures.
Marquette was seemingly able to force the scoring burden squarely onto the shoulders of Nova’s two leading scorers, Jalen Brunson (19.0 ppg) and Mikal Bridges (17.6 ppg), both of whom were the only Villanova players with a field goal until nearly a quarter of the way through the game when Eric Paschall converted a layup with 10:13 left to go in the first quarter.
This surge of contribution from Nova’s secondary players didn’t faze Marquette much by the time the first half was drawing to a close, but the difference in depth between the two teams was apparent. Villanova went on a 8-2 run to end out the half and entered the locker rooms with a 41-34 lead.
Coming out of the half Marquette was able to hold off the inevitable for a little while, keeping the game to first half-esqe scores before Nova’s first big run of the game began. Villanova went on a 12-0 run that began with 18:00 left to play and lasted until Marquette finally responded with 13:11 remaining on the clock. This run was highlighted with what may have been the play of the game, a vicious block from Bridges that lead to a lightening quick fast break three pointer from Brunson.
By this point Marquette’s overreliance on its leading scorers Markus Howard (20.3 ppg) and Andrew Rowsey (20.0 ppg) and a lack of secondary scoring options was obvious. Howard and Rowsey combined for 30 points in the game’s first half, but by the second half a combination of Villanova’s improved defense of the pair and waning energy levels throughout the rest of the Golden Eagles squad led to a Marquette team that lacked little if any pop for the majority of the second half.
Following a few other high-octane put-away type runs, Villanova easily had the conference quarterfinal game in hand alongside some impressive individual performances, with the Wildcats boasting four players in double-digit scoring figures, led by Mikal Bridges, who paced all players in the contest with 25 points to go with his eight rebounds.
A major key for the Wildcats in this game was their efficiency, especially from the 3-point line, where they recovered from a weak by their standards 33 percent first half from beyond the arc to post a 52 percent completion rate from three to end the game.
Coach Jay Wright said that they follow the mantra of “Shoot em up, sleep in the streets” when it comes to the 3-point arc, and he said that he believes that his players are good enough that he has no problem with telling them to shoot more when he sees fit.
Wright and his Wildcats will be back in the Garden Friday at 9 p.m. to face off against the winner of the Butler and Seton Hall game in the Big East Tournament semifinals.