Wildcats Barely Hang On in a Nail-Biter at the Finn

Villanova narrowly escaped with a 72-71 victory against Marquette last Wednesday night at the Finneran Pavilion, snapping the ‘Cats three-game losing skid. With this win, the Wildcats move to 18-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big East. The Golden Eagles fall to 17-7 overall and 7-5 in Big East competition.

Villanova’s long-distance offense ignited quickly, shooting 4-7 from behind the arc in the first five minutes of the contest as compared to Marquette’s 0-5 clip over the same stretch. Freshman guard Justin Moore would make a sweet finish in the lane shortly after to finish off an 11-0 scoring run for the Wildcats, extending the Villanova lead to 19-7 entering the twelve-minute break.

Marquette’s shooting woes would continue into the later stages of the half, missing on their first 7 attempts from deep as the ‘Cats built their lead to 15 with a pair of threes by Moore, and a layup off a steal by Sophomore forward Saddiq Bey.

Golden Eagle Senior Guard Markus Howard, legitimate candidate for Player of the Year Award and the current NCAA leading scorer with 27.3 PPG this season, finally ended Marquette’s scoring drought from deep by draining a tough contested three to bring the score to 28-16. Howard would go on to break the all-time Big East scoring record on a buzzer-beater three at the end of regulation, passing Syracuse’s Lawrence Moten (1405 points). Howard now holds the record with 1407 points in Big East play.

Howard sank another deep three for the last bucket of the half, pushing the score to 38-29 in favor of the Wildcats at the break.

Villanova’s offense erupted at the start of the second half, rapidly tallying a 9-0 run in the first three minutes after a midrange jumper by junior guard Collin Gillespie, a handful of free throws, and a savvy layup by sophomore forward Brandon Slater. Slater’s bucket brought the score to 47-29, resulting in Villanova’s largest lead of the contest (18). 

The Golden Eagles relentlessly clawed back into the fight, slowly and meticulously chopping away at the Villanova lead over the next ten minutes of the game. A torrent of threes from guard Koby McEwen and forward Jamal Cain would eventually result in a two-possession game with only four minutes left.

After a flurry of turnovers for both teams, a clutch three by Gillespie from straight-away center seemed to be the final dagger, extending the Wildcat lead to 70-60 with under two minutes remaining.

Howard, who at this point had yet to score a field goal in the second half, decided to take matters into his own hands. The star Golden Eagle guard exploded for 8 points in the next thirty seconds, nailing a pair of impossible threes and a contested layup after multiple Wildcat turnovers.

Fortunately for the ‘Cats, freshman forward Jeremiah Robsinson-Earl, who ended with a stellar stat line of 17-11-4 on 6-9 shooting from the field, sank a crucial last-second free throw to stretch the lead to four, rendering Howard’s buzzer-beating triple futile.

“Just keep a great attitude. That's what we talk about all the time. Just keeping a great attitude. Whether the free throws are going in, we work on it all the time, but attitude is so important for us. We can’t let the little things get to our heads” said Robinson-Earl of his late-game heroics, referencing how he missed the first free throw but sank the second to extend the lead to four. 

After this victorious effort, the Wildcats will look to carry on their momentum when they face Temple, a non-conference rival, at the Liacouras Center on Sunday, Feb. 16th at 1:00 p.m.