Villanova opened Saturday’s game against Marquette, before a crowd of 15,878 at the Wells-Fargo Center, by draining their first three shots from behind the arc to take an early 9-2 lead. The Wildcats stretched the lead to 21-7 after James Bell sank Nova’s fourth triple of the game. Although the they led by as many as 18 points in the first half, the Golden Eagles had cut the lead to 10 points by the intermission.
A multitude of players from both teams found themselves in foul trouble in the first half as the officials’ whistles sounded early and often. The refs called upwards of 25 (total) fouls in the first half including a technical foul against Villanova coach Jay Wright and one against Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
Due to two early fouls on Mouph Yarou, coach Wright was forced to play reserve center Maurice Sutton early and often in the game. Sutton’s spark off the bench was undeniable. He hustled on both ends of the court, and pumped his fists with excitement after forcing several key turnovers. At half time both Dominic Cheek and James Bell were in double figures with 11 points each.
Marquette came out hot in the second half and quickly cut Nova’s lead to 5 points. The Wildcats pushed the lead back to 10 but the hot hands of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder kept the Golden Eagles within striking distance.
With just over 6 minutes left in the second half, and Villanova still leading by 4 points, the officials called a ball out of bounds on Maalik Wayns. Wayns was then promptly called for a technical foul by referee James Breeding (the same official who had called the two technical fouls in the first half). The call completely changed the course of the game.
“I didn’t say anything disrespectful to the ref. I don’t know what caused the tech. He called it, it is what it is.” Wayns said after the game.
The resulting 2 free-throws and possession allowed Marquette to tie the game. On their next possession, Johnson-Odom scored again and put Marquette up for good.
Villanova had several chances to tie the game but did not capitalize. Down 3 points, Cheek missed a three-pointer and Yarou got the offensive rebound under the basket. Instead of going up for the easy bucket, he attempted to pass it back out to Wayns at the top of the key, resulting in a back-court violation. On their next possession, Cheek again took a quick three-point shot that air-balled.
Although JayVaughn Pinkston managed to hit a three-pointer with 8 seconds remaining, Marquette was solid from the charity stripe down the stretch and Nova could not get the lead down to a single possession again, eventually losing 82-78.
Villanova’s leading scorer was Pinkston with 17 points, but it was clearly the energy and hustle of Sutton that kept the Wildcats in the game. In 22 minutes off the bench Sutton had a double-double. He had 11 points to go with a team highs in rebounds (10), steals (3), and blocks (2). Coach Wright would be wise to kept Sutton involved in the Wildcats rotation going forward. Nova also got major contributions from Cheek with 16, Bell with 13, and Wayns with 12.
Marquette was paced by Johnson-Odom with 26 points and Crowder with 20 points and 11 boards. Jamil Wilson also chipped in 12 in the winning effort.
Villanova won the battle of the boards 37-33 but again had more turnovers (20) than assists (16). There were 18 total fouls called on Marquette and 27 called on Villanova. The fouls, along with several breaks in the game (one to fix the net and several where the officials went to the monitor to retroactively check phantom elbows) took any real flow away from the action in this contest. It was more about the whistle blowing of the striped shirts than the play of either team.
Villanova will have to live with this loss for more than a week before playing their next game (at Pittsburgh) on February 5th.
[photo credits: Mike McAtee]