For Marquette against Villanova, in their last three games (the 2009 Big East tournament and two early losses this year) - it can be summed up in two words. As Dick Vitale would say - "Heartbreak City."
Corey Stokes, returning from a one-game absence due to a hamstring injury, scored 16 points to help Villanova narrowly avoid losing a huge second-half lead, on Saturday at the Pavilion. The #6 Wildcats handed the Marquette Golden Eagles yet another heartbreaking loss, their second in a week at Villanova's hands, 78-76.
Villanova improved its record to 3-0 Big East, 14-1 overall. This is the first season that the Wildcats have started 3-0 in conference play since 2002-03, which ultimately fell short of expectations in Jay Wright's second season. That team was comprised of a solid nucleus of holdover players recruited by Wright's predecessor, Steve Lappas, with Wright's first full recruiting class added - future greats Allan Ray, Randy Foye, and Curtis Sumpter, and the McDonald's All-American, Jason Fraser, who saw a promising career cut short by chronic injuries. That team ultimately made it only to the NIT. But I speculate that 2010 will turn out far differently than 2003 did...
Marquette fell to 1-3 Big East, 10-6 overall. It was the fifth time in five games that Marquette has lost a contest that was decided by four or fewer points.
This afternoon, the Wildcats needed every inch of their seemingly endless depth, to hold off a Marquette rally. Five Wildcats reached double figures, with seven players scoring at least half a dozen points. The Bayonne Bomber had the best shooting stroke on Saturday, getting his 16 points on 6-11 shooting from the floor and an outstanding 4-8 from beyond the arc.
Scottie Reynolds finished with 15 points, including 7-9 from the line, a strong performance which helped stave off the Golden Eagles' rally.
On a minute-for-minute basis, Antonio Pena and Corey Fisher had the strongest performances, coincidentally ending up with identical totals of points and minutes - 11 points, in just 20 minutes of action. Pena's total also included a perfect 5-5 from the line, including two huge free throws in the waning seconds, plus four rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist.
Fisher's minutes were limited by foul trouble, as he finished with four. He was 5-10 from the floor, with four assists and four turnovers, plus a steal.
The fifth Wildcat in double figures was Reggie Redding. The senior led the team in minutes, with 36, and scored 10 points on 5-9 shooting, plus five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one turnover.
Off the bench, the big spark was once more Maalik Wayns. The freshman point guard saw 20 minutes, scoring half a dozen points on 2-2 shooting from both the floor and the line. The scary moment came when Taylor King's head slammed into a Marquette player's hip late in the second half; the game had to be temporarily halted, as King clearly was in agony on the court. Fortunately, he was able to walk off the floor under his own power. He ultimately finished with six points and five rebounds, in just 17 minutes. Dominic Cheek had three points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.
Mouphtaou Yarou Update
It was noted by analyst John Celestand on the ESPN+ broadcast, that Mouph still isn't 100%, according to Wright. Due to his loss of 11 games in calendar 2009 due to hepatitis, he doesn't have the stamina to play a ton of minutes and is also a bit behind the curve on the X's and O's, since he couldn't practice, either. So Wright is easing Mouph back into the rotation. Had Villanova maintained its lopsided lead, I speculate that Mouph might have seen more minutes than he did. Mouph played just five minutes, grabbing one rebound, commtting one foul, and did not take a shot of any kind. So it's going to take some time to get Mouph back into the swing of things.
The Marquette Side of the Box Score
Lazar Hayward finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, before fouling out in the waning seconds. Darius Johnson-Odom added 16 points, including 3-6 shooting from three-point range, while Jimmy Butler contributed 14 points, including 10-10 from the line.
As a team, Villanova shot 57.1% from the floor, 46.7% from three-point range, and 78.9% from the line, and usually that would be enough for a solid victory. The Wildcats led 31-19 at halftime, largely due to the fact that Marquette was limited to just 30.4% in the first half; the Golden Eagles rebounded to shoot 53.3% in the second half, including a stunning 9-15 from three-point range, a 60% clip.
As a result of its struggling first half, Marquette trailed 50-28 at the 13:59 mark, after a jumper from Redding. The game appeared to be out of reach, much like the DePaul game on Wednesday. But to their credit, the Golden Eagles began soaring. After scoring just 28 points in the first 26 minutes, they scored 31 in the next 7:27, climbing back into the game. They trailed just 64-59 with 6:33 to go, and just 66-63 at the 5:13 mark (Villanova had never trailed at any point in the game.)
The Wildcats counterattacked with one of those runs, especially at the Pavilion, where you think the opponent has finally been subdued. After Reynolds hit a triple at the 2:59 mark, on an assist from Fisher, Villanova's lead had moved back to eight, 75-67, and everyone was breathing a little more easily. But Marquette still had one last, gallant rally. The Golden Eagles scored the next six points, pulling to within 75-73 with 27 seconds to play, after two free throws from Hayward. The key play was that Stokes fouled Hayward on a breakaway, after Hayward had stolen the ball. It was a textbook example of what the NCAA has properly cracked down upon - no more fouls from behind on breakaways, even if it was a legitimate attempt to play the ball and there was no intent to injure the opponent (two criteria satisfied by Stokes' play).
Accordingly, the official properly called the intentional foul, breathing new life into Marquette, as they now had possession of the ball with 27 seconds left and trailing by just two after Hayward converted the pair. Buzz Williams called timeout to discuss what Marquette might do to take the game at the buzzer.
Well, Stokes redeemed himself, stealing the ball from Butler with nine seconds to play, and Johnson-Odom fouled Pena with eight seconds left. Pena was obviously not Villanova's first choice to be at the line, but give him a lot of credit. He nailed the first one, to put Villanova up by three.
This led to an interesting dilemma for Williams, as he had one timeout left. He had two options:
Should the timeout be held, hoping that Pena would miss the second free throw, and permitting Marquette to set up a play for a game-tying three-pointer?
Or, should the timeout be used immediately, hoping that it would ice Pena? The downside to this plan was that if Pena still convert the second free throw, the game was effectively over. Marquette wasn't going to have time to score twice in eight seconds without any timeouts.
Williams chose the second option - and that scenario was exactly what happened. Pena, under pressure, also hit the second one, boosting the lead to four and sealing the victory. Cheek was subsequently sent to the line, hitting one of two to make it 78-73. Johnson-Odom was permitted then to hit a meaningless three-pointer at the buzzer, rendering the final score 78-76.
So what sparked the Marquette charge in the second half?
I can point to one play. With Marquette trailing 52-35 at the 11:51 mark, the under-12 TV timeout had been called. Coming out of that timeout, nobody guarded Joseph Fulce at all - he was alone in the corner. Hayward found him and Fulce had about as uncontested a dunk as you can have, coming out of a timeout. The Wildcats' defensive breakdown on the play, gave Marquette a burst of adrenaline, got their bench into the game, and got them thinking, "We might be able to climb back into this one, after all." The Golden Eagles seemed far more spirited after the dunk.
Sights and Sounds
On the broadcast, I could recognize the Villanova pep band's renditions of, inter alia, "The Impression That I Get" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the main theme from the 2003 film Pirates of the Carribean, and the perennial staple "Land of 1000 Dances".
Football coach Andy Talley, decked out in a suit, was justifiably lauded for his bringing home of a national championship on the gridiron. He was publicly introduced, to a thundering ovation from the Pavilion faithful. Talley also was interviewed at length on the ESPN+ broadcast for several minutes; he noted that former football standout Hezekiah Lewis (a Brian Westbrook-era defensive back) is now a professor at Villanova. (Talley noted that Wright's suits are something he envies; as he put it, "It's always 70 degrees when he coaches- and that's why he can wear Armani." Jay had some sort of pumpkin/copper shirt on today, with cuff links.)
Next Up for the Wildcats
The Wildcats have little time to savor their hard-fought victory, as they must travel to as-yet-unranked, but still highly dangerous Louisville, at 7:00 PM on Monday night, as part of ESPN's "Big Monday" promotion
I'll have a full report, after the game...