The Big East standings tightened up on Saturday as No. 10 Marquette handed No. 14 Villanova its first conference loss. It was a dramatic finish in Milwaukee as the Golden Eagles came up with a late stop to win 66–65 behind 38 points from Markus Howard.
After a slow start from both sides, Marquette was able to build a solid double-digit lead in the second half as Villanova’s offense struggled. But the reigning national champions finally started hitting shots and roared back to take a 55–53 lead with 6:16 left. But the Wildcats’ defense once again gave way as Marquette stormed back and reconsolidated its advantage with big buckets from Howard and Sacar Amin that made it 64–59.
But Villanova cut it to 66–65 after Phil Booth made a jumper in the dying seconds. Howard was then stripped by Saddiq Bey, giving Villanova a chance to win at the buzzer. However, a discombobulated final possession led to a miss from Jermaine Samuels and Marquette held on. Villanova suffered its first lost since December, while Marquette earned a big win after dropping a midweek game to St. John’s.
Markus Howard continues to add to his illustrious resumé
Villanova’s key to the game had to have been slowing down Markus Howard. That did not happen until the last 20 seconds of the game. But Howard’s ugly turnover at the end can be excused after pouring in 38 points and six boards. Howard isn’t all of Marquette’s offense, but he can take over a game unlike almost any other player in the country. Howard ran circles around Villanova’s defense, getting to the basket with ease and knocking down five threes. The Wildcats tried to stop Howard with double teams and benefitted from an off night from both Hauser brothers, but Howard’s brilliance was still too much. It’s these types of individual performances that could take Marquette far in the NCAA tournament.
Villanova’s three-point shooting was bad again tonight, but should regress back to the mean
The Wildcats shot 9 for 29 from three (31%), which is not a recipe for success on the road against a top-ten opponent. Villanova’s three-point shooting has been in a slump over its last three games (they are 22 for 72 in this stretch). However, Villanova’s season average is still 36%, and in the rematch with Marquette on Feb. 27 (and potentially another rematch in the Big East tournament), Jay Wright’s squad should expect better results. They will certainly need them headed down the stretch.
Late-game decision-making was strange all-around
For starters, Eric Paschall decided to take a three while down one with 57 seconds left, but that seems to be the norm these days. That shot was defensible, but Markus Howard’s ball-handling skills on the penultimate possession left much to be desired as well. And then the last shot of the game was just a total mess as Booth dribbled into three guys at the rim, looked to pass and found no one ready to take a quality shot. It was okay defense from Marquette, but Villanova could’ve done much better.