Marquette’s been hot. After starting slow and looking unimpressive in the Big East, including giving away games late against Seton Hall and Butler, they had a strong road victory at Creighton (who were missing their All-American point guard in Maurice Waston Jr.)
But the next test was Villanova. Number one Villanova. Player of the Year Candidate Josh Hart. Future superstar (present superstar, yeah definitely) Jalen Brunson. The hero of the National Championship Game Kris Jenkins. A juggernaut.
And for the first half, Villanova showed us that they were in a different category than Marquette. They went 2-12 from three, which is uncharacteristic for them, and were still up 15 at half, shooting over 50% from the floor. Villanova’s vaunted defense were everything they were supposed to be, containing the offensive explosiveness of the Golden Eagles to the tune of just 24 points at halftime. At one point during the half, they held the Golden Eagles completely scoreless for over SIX minutes. The Wildcats were not without their woes; Josh Hart picked up two quick fouls and played only four minutes in the half. And yet, Villanova was the machine (or a Fortune 500 company, if you’re Jon Rothstein) they were supposed to be.
And then the second half happened. Marquette, in the past, had been a very, very bad second half team. And they came out with 50 points, including one of the grittiest runs I’ve ever seen, to finish the game up two, 74-72.
The story comes down to the final five minutes and, somehow, to Marquette’s incredible defensive stand. Down 10 with 5:14 to go, Marquette would hold Villanova to just four more points in those five minutes. And the Golden Eagles would make it hard on themselves. At one point, they had missed five of six free throws. For the defense they were playing, they were doing themselves no favors. As Coach Wojo said in his press conference afterwards “There were so many tipping points”. At any moment, Marquette could have given up buckets or not made shots on defense and lost this game.
But they were tough and held in there. Redshirt junior and team captain Duane Wilson, coming off the bench, was the glue that held Marquette together and the motor that made them run, with 11 points. Mikal Bridges led all scorers with 20, and Reinhardt and Brunson had 19, but Wilson was the catalyst and the spark Marquette needed. The squad on the floor at the end of the game looked to him for big plays, and he made them, even if it was just grabbing a rebound or distributing. Reinhardt hit clutch shot after clutch shot, including the clinching free throws to take the game for the Golden Eagles.
After this unbelievable display between two incredible Big East teams, they both must move forward. Villanova gets Virginia and a chance to redeem themselves on Saturday. Marquette gets to host Providence Saturday and need to not let the last two wins get to their heads. They’ve shown they can be a contender. Now they need to play like it night in and night out.
- Josh Hart only played 19 minutes due to foul trouble. Marquette did a great job attacking him. For his 19 minutes, he still got 16 points. He’s still my player of the year.
- Incredible win by the Golden Eagles, but Villanova is still my pick to repeat as National Champions. If Phil booth comes back healthy soon and they can move to an 8 man rotation, they’ll be unstoppable.
- Markus Howard fouled out in seven minutes of play with no points. Uncharacteristic from the kid who’s been Marquette’s heart and soul this year, but sometimes you have off nights
- I take back all of the bad things I’ve said about Katin Reinhardt. He’s finally found his form and at the perfect time. He can shoot, he can drive, he can pass, and he can rebound. Becoming the complete player the Golden Eagles need.
- Mikal Bridges is downright disgustingly good. He hit four of the six threes for the Wildcats and was at least 45 of the 99 problems Marquette had. Incredible day for him (20 points, six rebounds). He’s going to continue to star in this lineup.