Marquette too much for ‘Nova in New York



Nate McGann

Apparently for Villanova, the third time isn’t always a charm.

In their first game of the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden, the Wildcats couldn’t hold off a pesky Marquette squad, falling 80-76. 

Having defeated the Golden Eagles twice already this season, Villanova was confident about its chances to advance deep into the conference tournament after watching top-seeded Syracuse lose earlier in the day to Georgetown. But the combination of senior forward Lazar Hayward and sophomore transfer Darius Johnson-Odom proved to be too much. 

“We need to get better. I think we can,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “We’ll take a day or two off. But we’ll have some good practices, and we’ll improve between now and the time we play our first tournament game.”

Johnson-Odom finished with a game-high 24 points, a career high for the guard appearing in his first ever Big East tournament, while Hayward added 20 points of his own including the decisive 3-pointer that gave Marquette the lead with just over a minute to play. Villanova counteracted with an outstanding performance from junior guard Corey Stokes, who connected on 6 of 7 from beyond the arc and finished with a team-high 22 points. This wasn’t the first time Stokes had a big game in front of the New York crowd. He has clearly felt very comfortable at the Garden. 

After heading into the half tied at 30, Villanova went on a small run early in the second half to jump out to its largest lead of the day. But the success was short-lived as Johnson-Odom continued knocking down 3-point jump shots. 

The Golden Eagles, who have been involved in very few blowouts this season, extended their lead to 65-57 with a little over four minutes remaining in the game and appeared to be poised to run away with the match late, but the Wildcats had one surge left in them. 

Villanova forced Marquette to commit three consecutive turnovers, and another Stokes 3-pointer tied it again at 70. But Hayward responded immediately with a 3-pointer of his own, and Marquette never looked back. 

“When I had that three, I had a little space, and I seen [sic] he had his hands down,” Hayward said. “I just shot it and it was a rhythm shot. Coach never gets mad if we shoot rhythm threes. It went in, and it definitely was a big momentum swing for us.”

The upset marked the second straight unexpected result for the top seeds in the tournament. Both Villanova and Syracuse fell despite enjoying a double-bye and finishing as one of the top four teams in the league. With two close games in the night session, many began questioning whether or not the double-bye format was beneficial. Wright doesn’t seem to mind.

“If we would have won, you only have two more games to win a championship,” Wright said. “We all know the NCAA tournament is important. Your top teams aren’t beat down. There’s still a great advantage to only playing three games in a tournament and having a chance to win it all.” 

Senior guard Scottie Reynolds continued his recent trend of questionable play, finishing with just 10 points on 40 percent shooting. Reynolds is now in danger of falling short of Villanova’s all-time scoring record. He is 49 points behind Kerry Kittles and will be forced to continue on a game-by-game basis now that the tournament has arrived. 

While the team is struggling as it heads into the NCAA tournament today, you wouldn’t know it from the players.

“We are a better team now than we were as the No. 2 team in the country,” Reynolds said after the game. “I mean it.”