by Dan Gardella
New York – Like most teams this week, Marquette was still in search of that one signature win to ensure that they will have a spot in the field of 68 come NCAA Tournament time. They nearly saw that opportunity slip through their fingers as they barely escaped DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament. They could not play below their ability against their quarterfinal opponent, the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright’s crew had something to prove as they headed into New York not as the one seed for the first time in the newly configured conference tournament. The Wildcats would prove to be too much for the Golden Eagles as they advanced to their fourth consecutive Big East Tournament Semi-Final with a 94-70 victory in front of a sold-out crowd Thursday evening.
The game had the feel of an old-fashioned shootout prior to tipoff. A story of “First one to 90 points wins”. The game started off in the opposite direction as neither team could find their shot in the opening minutes as Marquette would only lead 6-5 through the first four and a half minutes. The ‘Cats and Golden Eagles would exchange the lead several times throughout the first half as teams traded baskets, mostly three point baskets. Toward the end of the first half, Villanova would find their stroke, making their last three shots of the half to stretch a one point lead into seven and went into the locker room up 41-34 at halftime.
On the first play out of the locker room to start the second half, Marquette would get a quick bucket from Sacar Anim on a backdoor cut to trim the lead to five. Marquette would cut the lead to as little as three early on in the second half when a pair of Sam Hauser free throws made it 44-41 with 18:31 to play.
From there, it was all Wildcats as they had a seven-minute streak where they did not miss a field goal. The Wildcats would make nine straight shots, six of which were behind the three-point line to make a 15 point lead swell to a 24 point lead as Omari Spellman’s three capped the insane streak and made it 88-64 Villanova with five minutes to play.
“I’m glad we do shoot it well in this building. I love this building, but I don’t help the shots. But thank God they do, because when you play in this building they’re always big games. So, I think the guys do get excited about playing here and we did shoot it well tonight. Thank God for that.” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright about the hot shooting inside Madison Square Garden.
Thursday marked the third time Villanova played inside the World’s Most Famous Arena this season. The first time, the Wildcats shot 51% from the field and 48% from three-point territory in a convincing 88-72 win over 12th ranked Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic. The second time, they shot a mortal 43% from the field as well as from the three-point arc in a 78-71 over St. John’s.
On the other side of Marquette, it seemed like no particular style of defense was working for Steve Wojciechowski and company.
“Boy, they can really shoot. But they started the second half, they scored five of six of the first possessions in man. So, we wanted to try something else. And then they went five of six in zone.
So it’s a credit to their offensive power and their ability to shoot. We had a hard time containing them off the dribble. And then when we tried to switch it up they got 3-point shots. And I mean, they shot the eyes out of the ball.” Said Wojciechowski
Villanova had four players in double figures, with the Killer B’s (Brunson, Booth, and Bridges) combining for 61 of the team’s 94 points.
For Villanova (28-4) they take on sixth seeded Butler, who upset Seton Hall in the Quarterfinals in the Semi-Finals Friday night.
For Marquette (19-13) they await their fate on Selection Sunday in hopes of dancing for the second consecutive season.
“I believe we’re an NCAA Tournament team. But that’s not something I get to decide on. I think our team has had a really good year, especially considering our youth, and I think we’ve had a really good year. And I think our team is capable of winning games in the NCAA Tournament.” said Wojciechowski