The Villanova Wildcats entered the game at 10-11 on the season, trying to get back to .500 and to get their first win against a ranked opponent. They fell short on both, 82-78, but not for a lack of effort and heart.
The Wildcats came out blazing in the Wells Fargo Center, holding a 30-12 lead midway through the first half. They were playing tight defense, grabbing almost every rebound and even knocking down shots from the outside.
After hitting their first four attempted threes, they were just 4-of-16 the rest of the game. To Marquette's credit, they never let the game get away from them and they stormed back, finishing the half on a 24-16 run, trailing by 10 at the break.
As Villanova has so often done this season, they waited a few minutes to start playing in the second half. In the first 90 seconds, Marquette had cut the lead to five. By the three-minute mark, Villanova's two big men, Mouphtaou Yarou and Markus Kennedy were on the bench with four fouls each.
No matter what obstacles they had to climb, the Wildcats stuck together, played tough and as a team. They had five players score in double figures along with five who had at least two assists.
JayVaughn Pinkston continued his freshman season surge with 17 points and five rebounds. Dominic Cheek has 16 points and six rebounds. James Bell brought a ton of energy to go along with his 13 points and four rebounds.
Little-used junior big man Maurice Sutton gave the performance of his life, with 11 points and nine rebounds. His intensity and enthusiasm truly carried the 'Cats through the second half.
Usual scoring leader Maalike Wayns scored 12 points in 28 minutes. For the second straight game he sat for a significant stretch due to foul trouble after a questionable charge call. Villanova struggles too much to score with Wayns on the bench, and his absence sapped their early momentum.
But more than anything else, Villanova lost this game with sloppy and careless play. Turnovers, fouls and poor shot selection being the worst culprits.
The Wildcats finished the game with 20 turnovers and were whistled for 26 fouls, including two technicals. They also took two horrible three-point attempts in the final minutes with the game still in reach.
In the end, Villanova played another tough game. No matter who they play, they make the opponent work for the win. Too often, Villanova finds a way to give the game away.
In fairness, Marquette had the two best players on the court in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The duo combined for 46 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. Johnson-Odom in particular proved hard to stop as he dissected the Wildcat defense on possession after possession.
Villanova just doesn't have the experience or the know-how yet to hang with the upper echelon teams in the Big East. They are improving and they are a team worthy of watching, but it may not be until next season that Jay Wright's hard work and coaching will come to fruition.
They have a lot of time to think about this game though, as they don't play again until they visit Pittsburgh next Sunday. Hopefully by then they can figure out a way to defend without fouling. Hopefully they can earn a well-deserved win.
They may not play pretty, but they bring it every night and there is a lot to be said for that.