I’m about to say something that is not often said after a Villanova Basketball game: that was hard to watch.
Although they came out ahead, Villanova was sloppy at points today, there’s no way around it. This is a team that is notorious for playing down to the level of their opponents, and this game against Marquette was no different. There were moments, and players, that stood out or were outstanding, but the overall feeling was similar to when a character in a movie does something cringe-worthy - second hand embarrassment at its finest.
During a halftime interview Villanova’s head coach, Jay Wright, commented on his guys, saying “we are playing no defense. None. It’s actually an embarrassment.”
Winding back to the beginning of the game, there were definitely some highlights. Redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo scored ten of the first fourteen points, and the Wildcats seemed to be playing well on the road. The guys were playing well together, running plays and making their shots. Eric Pascall’s first eight points were all assisted by Jalen Brunson, the Big East and National Player of the Year candidate point guard who stepped in time and again to change the tide of the game when it was moving away from Villanova’s favor.
With ten minutes left in the first half, Villanova went on a 28-18 run, surging ahead of Marquette for the time being. The Golden Eagles seemed disheartened, and in one of the FS1 “inside the huddle” moments their head coach, Steve Wojciechowski, could be heard telling them over and over again that “they will get tired!” It’s likely that Wojciechowski (remember when we used to complain that people couldn’t spell Arcidiacono?) was referring to the blatant lack of depth that Villanova has been struggling with - a struggle that has only gotten worse lately.
Against Marquette only three points came from Villanova’s bench - in the form of a 3-pointer from freshman Collin Gillespie. Look for him getting more playing time, and hopefully more confidence, while his classmate Jermaine Samuels remains out with an injury, as does starter, and one of the team captains, Phil Booth.
Phil Booth, the man who came off the bench in the 2016 National Championship game to score 20 points, is injured (again!!!!). After sitting out the majority of last season with painful knee tendinitis, he is now out indefinitely after fracturing a bone in his right (shooting) hand in the second half of Villanova’s recent win over Providence. Booth was averaging 11.6 PPG this season, shooting with 49 percent accuracy, and 43 percent from beyond the arc. Undoubtedly Marquette was hoping that this injury would cause the Wildcats to tire out quicker, and perhaps that was the case.
Either way, I’m glad I wasn’t in the locker room at half time, especially right after Wright announced on television that he was embarrassed of how his “basketball robots” were malfunctioning.
The second half of the game was undeniably exciting, for both teams. The score was 49-44, with Nova in the lead. Quickly, Marquette caught up with the Wildcats, and their 5-foot-11 guard Andrew Rowsey made a 3-point jumper followed by three free throws in a row to start the second half. The Wildcats were not able to effectively defend Rowsey, and he ended the game with an impressive 27 points under his belt. Shortly after, Markus Howard assisted Sacar Anim’s layup that brought Marquette ahead of Villanova with a score of 52-51.
This is where Jalen Brunson came in and changed the game. This was the moment where Villanova Basketball was brought back, and hopefully redeemed the team (or at least Brunson) in Jay Wright’s eyes. The 6-foot-3 junior guard scored ten unanswered points in a row. You read that right. The Wildcat’s were down by one point and that was enough to push Brunson over the edge, and into a higher gear. The Wildcat tied his career high with 31 points, and showed everyone why he deserves to be a Player of the Year candidate.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there, although the Wildcat’s didn’t trail Marquette for the rest of the game. With just about seven minutes left in the game, Rowsey nailed two shots from beyond the arc, and shortly after Sacar Anim made another decisive layup, and suddenly the score was 73-72, Villanova.
Again Brunson answered this, though it was more of a team effort, with Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges pitching in to bring the wildcats up to an 80-72 lead over the Golden Eagles. That was pretty much the game, although again Rowsey was trying to tie things up right at the end, with a layup in the last second of the game that brought the final score to 85-82, with Villanova coming out ahead, after a messy, exciting, and painful basketball game.
Look for the Wildcats at their next game this Thursday versus the Creighton Bluejays - something tells me the game might be a little uglier than this one was - although the home crowd should help the Wildcats pull out another victory.