PHILADELPHIA, PA. 1/7/2017 – The Villanova Wildcats will probably not be the number one team in the nation when the polls are released on Monday. That does not matter as much as how the team bounced back after the loss at Butler. And at this time they are still the top-ranked team in the nation. And they played like it. Shooting as hot as the weather was cold Villanova began a new winning streak defeating the Marquette Golden Eagles 93 – 81 at the Wells Fargo Center.
“After you lose a game at any time, you are always curious about how your team comes back,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “I was curious, but not worried. Josh (Hart) and Kris (Jenkins) have character. They can look at a loss and say ‘we’ve got to get better, no excuses and I expected that, but I was still curious.”
The Wildcats came out in the first nine minutes of the game and were a perfect 6 of 6 from the field, 2 for 2 from beyond the arc. After their first miss at the 12:52 mark the Cats made the next two capped by a traditional three-point play by Jalen Brunson followed by two free throws by Mikal Bridges. At that point Villanova made all five of their free throws. At the 11:09 mark Nova had 1.79 points per possession. Any team would be tough to beat playing offense at that level.
“It was big,” Hart said about the team started the game. “We started out the game well in terms of playing Villanova basketball. That is what I am most proud of, how we started that game playing Villanova basketball. It was one of the better jobs we did all year.”
The Wildcats made 15 of 23 field goal attempts and converted 6 of their 10 shots from deep in the first half to take a 44 – 33 lead into halftime. The Golden Eagles stayed in contention making 7 three-pointers.
Nova was even more effective to start the second half as the first three buckets were threes by three different players. Marquette got their first basket of the half Villanova was on 14 – 2 run keyed by two Jenkins thee-point shots just four minutes into the half to take a 58 – 35 lead.
For the game the Wildcats shot 65.3% from the floor (32 – 49) and made 14 of 23 from distance for 60.9%, all season-highs. Villanova had 24 assists on their 32 made field goals, another season mark. Jenkins led the way scoring 23 points (7 – 11 and 6 – 9), a season-high for the senior forward. He was one of four Nova players to hit double-digits. Hart scored 19 points and had a game-best 7 assists to go along with 5 rebounds. Brunson scored 16 points. Bridges contributed 15 points shooting a perfect 4 of 4 from the floor, sank all three of his three-point shots, and converted all four free throws.
“I liked the way we shared the ball, and that’s how we want to play,” Wright said.
Marquette made a run at the end to get to within the final margin behind their three-point shooting. For the game the Golden Eagles made 14 of 31 from distance giving them 12 two-point shots made. Markus Howard had a team-leading 21 points as he made 4 of 5 long shots. Katin Reinhardt took 10 deep shots and made 5 for 15 points. Leading scorer Jajuan Johnson scored 12 points.
The Wildcats (15 – 1, 3 – 1)will be back on the floor Tuesday night hosting Xavier who has lost twice prior to tonight at the Pavilion.
“It doesn’t matter what your record is at this time of year,” said Wright. “It’s what direction you are going in. Are you getting better, and I think that we are.”
Written By: Glenn Papazian