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Marquette Overcomes Villanova, 85–80

Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Sophomore guard Mark Armstrong helped spark Villanova’s mid-game comeback against Marquette, scoring 16 points on the night. The Wildcats were ultimately unable to maintain a lead over the Golden Eagles, falling 85–80.

After two weeks away from their home court, Villanova returned on Tuesday to the Finn, where they were defeated 85–80 by No. 9 Marquette. 

Marquette moved up eight spots in the national ranking since they last bested Villanova 87–74 on Jan. 15. The 2023 Big East champion Golden Eagles had to fight hard to secure another win against the Wildcats, who refused to go away. 

The loss leaves Villanova with an overall record of 11–10 and moves its conference record to 4–6, placing them in eighth place in the Big East. This defeat adds to the Wildcats’ five-game losing streak, stretching back to Jan. 12. 

 “We just couldn’t get stops, just couldn’t get it done,” head coach Kyle Neptune said.  “[Villanova] couldn’t get rebounds, couldn’t keep them out of the paint.”

Leading the ‘Cats with 24 points each were redshirt senior forward Eric Dixon and senior guard TJ Bamba, who reached his season high in points during the game. Following closely behind was sophomore guard Mark Armstrong, who dropped 16 points on the night. 

“This is this team’s journey. This team is still fighting. We’re still all together. No one is pointing any fingers or blaming anybody,” Dixon said. “So this is what it is. As far as being a normal Villanova season, I have a bunch of brothers around me that are fighting every single day. So I’m feeling pretty good.”

The start of the game was reminiscent of Villanova’s recent battle with UConn, as the Golden Eagles went on an 11–0 run from the tip. After five minutes without scoring, Dixon gave the ‘Cats their first basket.

Nevertheless, the Wildcats could not stop the Golden Eagles defensively. On offense, they were struggling to find shots and promising opportunities. When Villanova’s deficit reached 15-2 after only five-and-a-half minutes of play, Neptune called his first timeout. 

Despite Villanova’s breaks and attempts to creep back on offense, Marquette never let up on the offensive end, going 16–28 from the field in the first half. 

The momentum for the ‘Cats finally began building in the waning minutes of the half, as the team went on a 14–2 run to cut the lead to single digits. The comeback came largely in part of the efforts of Bamba, who led the team with 12 points going into the locker room. 

Bamba’s energy, alongside a boost of scoring from Armstrong, made the score 31–39 in favor of the Golden Eagles going into the second half. 

“Mark [Armstrong] kind of sparked this a little bit. He made some tough shots. Really it was guarding and really it was stops,” Neptune said. 

The offensive spark continued as the game resumed. The ‘Cats shared the wealth on three-pointers from Armstrong, Bamba, graduate guard Justin Moore, and graduate forward Tyler Burton. Four minutes into the half, Villanova had gone on a 15–8 scoring run, cutting the lead to one and forcing Marquette to take a timeout. 

The main problem for the Wildcats during the run in the first ten minutes was Golden Eagle Tyler Kolek. Kolek’s continuous threes kept his team’s lead in check every time the ‘Cats came knocking.

“[Kolek] is a good player,” Bamba said. “He can score, he can pass, he can get on the ball. He definitely was tough to cover.” 

As both teams entered the bonus, the game came down to which could keep their fouls in check and hit their free throws. This proved in favor of Marquette, since Villanova struggled with foul calls throughout the remaining half of the game. 

With one minute left and down four points, the ‘Cats were forced to keep fouling in hopes that the Golden Eagles would start missing their free throws. Despite last-ditch efforts from Dixon in the paint and from behind the arc, Marquette’s lead held until the end.

“Right now we just got to continue to get better,” Neptune said. “There’s a lot of basketball left. We’re gonna go back. We’re gonna watch film. We’re gonna go practice. We’re gonna get better from this. We’re gonna come out and we’re gonna compete in our next game.” 

Villanova will face off against Providence for their next game on Sunday, Feb. 4 at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wildcats are looking to end their losing streak with this Big East lineup and try to climb out of the bottom of the conference. Meanwhile, the Friars are looking to keep their spot in the top five. 

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.

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