Jay Wright’s Wildcats had some soul searching to do after their loss to Butler on Wednesday. After two narrow victories to begin conference play, their loss at Hinkle Fieldhouse was seen by some as the beginning of a brutal conference schedule.
However, in a return to the Wells Fargo Center, Villanova quelled any doubts of their legitimacy come March, beating the Marquette Golden Eagles by a deceptively close score of 93-81.
From the beginning of the game, the Wildcats were ready to strike. Villanova made its first six field goals, with most of the early offensive firepower coming from senior forward Kris Jenkins. Jenkins finished with 23 points, a season high, with most of his points coming from six three-pointers made. It was not a one-dimensional game for the stretch four, however, as he tallied four rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
In the first half, Marquette stayed within striking distance, mainly thanks to freshman guard Markus Howard. Howard led the Golden Eagles in scoring, notching 21 points on an efficient 11 attempts. Howard went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, contributing to the team’s strong 45.2 percent showing from three-point range. However, as a whole the team shot only 41.3 percent from the field, and the ineffective Marquette defense was exposed, with Villanova shooting a hyper-efficient 80% from the field in the first sixteen minutes of the second half, which proved to be the decisive run.
While he may not have had an eye-popping stat-line, Fordham transfer Eric Paschall fired up the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center and sparked the run that eventually won the Wildcats the game. The former Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year had a block from behind on a dunk attempt by Marquette which led to a fastbreak dunk for the Wildcats. Just minutes later, Paschall wowed those in attendance again, slamming down a powerful dunk with one hand over a jumping defender. Although he only finished the game with six points, Paschall proved that he can unleash the potential many saw in him when he transferred to Villanova.
Senior superstar Josh Hart was also very effective throughout the game, finishing with 19 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. At this point, we have nearly run out of superlatives to gush about Josh Hart with, but he is a frontrunner for the Naismith award for very good reason. Also having a nice bounce-back game for the Wildcats was sophomore Mikal Bridges. Bridges did not score a single point in the loss against Creighton, but racked up 15 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals, and two chase-down blocks in a stat-sheet stuffing performance.
The game was somewhat overshadowed by the looming AP Poll on Monday. Although Villanova is still technically ranked first in the nation, there is little to no chance of them retaining that spot after losing their first game of the season. With the win, it will be interesting to see how far Villanova will fall.
After this game, the Wildcats move to 15-1, and 3-1 in Big East play, behind only the Xavier Musketeers, who are undefeated in conference play. However, Villanova will have a chance to make up that ground in the standings, as they go back to familiar territory in the Pavilion to take on Xavier Tuesday night.
After two brutal road games and a neutral-site game (albeit in the loosest sense of the word) against Marquette, returning to the friendly confines of cozy Pavilion will surely be a nice respite, although a tough opponent will be coming to town. Tip-off is