Home Streak Snapped As Marquette Upsets ‘Cats, 57-54


Courtesy of Laurence Kesterson/AP Photo

The Zero Waste Game will be held on March 1.

Meghann Morhardt, Co-Sports Editor

Until Wednesday, it had been nearly 10 years since the last time Marquette defeated Villanova on Villanova’s home court. The ‘Cats’ 82-78 loss on Jan. 28, 2012 came to a Golden Eagles team ranked No. 17 at the time, but on Wednesday night, an unranked Marquette squad stormed into the Pavilion and defeated No. 11 Villanova 57-54. 

The energy from the two teams matched that of the sold out crowd in the Finneran Pavilion. Both teams were coming off hot stretches in Big East play, with the Wildcats winning their last six games and the Golden Eagles their last five. In a conference where any team can steal a win on any given night, all eyes were on Marquette to see if they could rise to the challenge. 

“Great Big East basketball game,” said Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “Tough, physical game. Both teams played great.” 

Villanova and Marquette had both struggled to find a rhythm earlier in the season, each losing multiple tough battles before entering conference play. Both also started each of their conference schedules with a loss on the road, with Villanova losing to Creighton, 79-59, and Marquette falling at Xavier, 80-71. 

The similarities in the trends of their seasons played a role in the tightness of the game. Each team has been working through the challenges that come with new personnel and changing lineups as well as disruptions due to COVID-19. Because of the common obstacles and experiences that allowed the teams to be so evenly matched, the end result came down to the little things and who had the grit to pull out the win. 

“I think we executed right to the end, we just didn’t make the shots,” Wright said. “That’s gonna happen sometimes. You look at other little things you do when it’s a one possession game, the little things you can control and that’s where they got us, on things like loose balls.”

Sophomore forward Eric Dixon led the team with 15 points and five rebounds. Dixon played a key role in the team’s six-game win streak prior to the loss, averaging 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds over the last three games and shooting 60.9% from the field in that stretch. 

Junior guard Justin Moore added 13 points, 10 of which came in the first nine minutes of the game. Moore started the game hot, making four of his first five shots, but the Golden Eagles defense made some adjustments and held Moore to 1-of-8 shooting for the remainder of the game. 

Graduate guard Collin Gillespie added 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the ‘Cats. Gillespie struggled offensively, not scoring his first points until the 3:23 mark in the first half and finishing the game just 1-of-6 from distance. 

Marquette’s length gave Gillespie a lot of trouble, leaving him no space to get clean shots off and packing the paint to prevent his signature back-down scoring option. 

“They’re long and athletic,” Gillespie said of Marquette’s defense. “They were doing a good job of blitzing ball screens and trying to make it difficult for us to make decisions.” 

Gillespie was not the only Wildcat who struggled to find his offensive rhythm, as the team finished the game shooting 37.9% from the field and 25% from behind the arc, 6% and 10% below their respective season averages. 

With Shaka Smart as the new head coach for Marquette this season, it comes as no surprise that defense is a strength for the Golden Eagles. 

“For us, we always talk about defense being our anchor,” explained Smart. “It’s something that we really want to hang our hat on and that ended up winning us the game.” 

Marquette’s paint defense is powered by 6’10” graduate forward Kur Kuath. Despite Kuath’s dominant presence and three blocks, Villanova was able to find some success inside, scoring 30 points in the paint on the night. 

Justin Lewis led all scorers with 21 points and seven rebounds for the Golden Eagles. The redshirt freshman leads the team, averaging 15.6 points per game on 43% shooting from the field. Junior guard Greg Elliott added 14 points, including 4-of-6 from deep. 

The first 26 minutes of play were even, with neither team leading by more than six at any point in the stretch. Villanova shifted the momentum with a 12-0 run starting with just over 13 minutes remaining, sparked by an electrifying dunk from graduate forward Jermaine Samuels and capped with a three from Moore.

The Wildcats led 45-36 with 10:53 remaining, but back-to-back threes for Marquette out of a timeout cut the lead back to three with 9:30 left to play. Senior guard Caleb Daniels responded with a quick three of his own, but Elliott made his third triple of the night to erase Daniels’ and bring the Golden Eagles within a basket. 

Dixon came up big with a strong and-one finish over Kuath and converted on his free throw to extend Villanova’s lead to six with just under 8:00 to play. Elliott continued his hot streak and added five more points for Marquette while the Golden Eagles simultaneously held the ‘Cats scoreless over a five minute stretch, cutting the Wildcat lead to 51-50 with 2:45 to go. 

Gillespie drew another Kuath foul, scoring the basket and draining the free throw to extend the lead back to four with just over two minutes remaining. Marquette showed its grit and determination, securing four straight defensive stops and scoring on its last three possessions to close out the game on a 7-0 run. Lewis scored all seven points for Marquette, breaking a 54-54 tie with a three with 11 seconds remaining. 

On the final possession, Moore’s three was short and a half-court heave from Gillespie was off target, snapping a 29-game home win streak for the ‘Cats and sending the Golden Eagles onto the court in celebration. 

With the loss, the Wildcats fell to 13-5 on the season, 6-2 in conference play. Villanova will look to bounce back as they travel to Washington DC on Saturday to face Georgetown.