The numbers will show that Villanova played a dominant second half Wednesday night against Marquette, but coach Jay Wright will tell you it was the way they finished the first half defensively that turned the game in his team’s favor.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats held the Golden Eagles to two points in the final 3 minutes, 45 seconds of the first half, then started the second half on a 10-1 run that helped them roll to an 85-68 victory in a Big East game at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, their sixth straight win.
“Early, I don’t know why, we were backing off their guards, and they hit some threes,” Wright said. “I think we finally got it, yelling at them in the huddle a little bit like, ‘Let’s wake up and follow the scouting report.’ At the end of the first half we got locked in, and we stuck with it in the second half.”
The Wildcats (8-1, 3-0 Big East) shot 51.6% from the field in the second half and knocked down six three-pointers in 15 attempts. They also dominated in the turnover department, committing only four while scoring 18 points off of 17 miscues by the Golden Eagles (5-5, 1-3).
Villanova shot 44.8% in the first half and used a late 8-0 run to take a 36-30 lead at the break. After hitting four three-point baskets in the first half, Collin Gillespie sparked the 10-1 run with another three, and Cole Swider added another basket from deep to give the Cats a 46-34 lead.
“We’ve got to figure out how to start games better with more energy and being more locked into the [scouting report] and personnel,” said Gillespie, who finished with six threes and a game-high 22 points. “But I think we did a good job at the end of the first half and leading into the second half.”
Back-to-back threes by Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels later upped the margin to 15, and a 7-0 run that ended with Gillespie’s short jumper in the lane made it a 20-point game at 63-43 with 10:07 to play. Villanova’s largest lead, 75-52, came on Brandon Slater’s three-point basket with just over 4 minutes remaining.
The Wildcats placed five players in double figures. Justin Moore added 14 points, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl chipped in with 13 plus seven rebounds. Villanova finished the game shooting 48.4% and knocking down 13 baskets from deep.
Wright said Gillespie provided an immediate spark with three threes in the first six-plus minutes.
“That was huge because we were struggling offensively early except for him,” he said. “I think their length bothered us a little bit early. Collin just kept moving out deeper hitting threes; length doesn’t bother you out there. But that was really important for us in the game.”
The Golden Eagles, who had defeated a pair of top 10 teams, Wisconsin at home and Creighton on the road, earlier this month, were led by Jamal Cain with 15 points. Their top two scorers, Koby McEwen (15.2 points per game entering the game) and freshman Dawson Garcia (13.1 ppg) were held to five and nine points, respectively.
The Big East leader in free-throw shooting at 74.5% coming in, Marquette missed its first five attempts from the line and finished 7 of 16.