Marquette Drops Villanova 79-72 On New Year's Day

Richard DeLanceyCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2009

Fourteen missed three-pointers doomed the Villanova men’s basketball team as they fell 79-72 to Marquette in the Big East opener for both teams.  A New Year’s Day crowd of 16,446 celebrated the Golden Eagles win over the 15th ranked Wildcats at the Bradley Center.

Marquette senior Jerel McNeal scored a game high 24 points.  His 3-pointer with 3:55 remaining capped a 7-0 run, giving the Golden Eagles an eight-point lead that Villanova couldn’t overcome.  Three other Marquette players scored in double figures including senior Wesley Matthews, who had 19 points on 5 of 6 shooting.

"Just letting the game come. Jerel and Dominic got it going early, they had the matchups and we were just playing in the flow of the game,” Matthews said. “We were obviously each playing our part and I tried to play defense and rebound and get the team involved. Whenever that little outburst took place, I was just playing my spot, playing my position and the shots were falling."

Sophomore Corey Fisher scored 21 and senior Dante Cunningham added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Wildcats.

"I came out tonight being more aggressive, just taking open shots, looking for my teammates," Fisher said. "I just kept trying to score."

The normally stingy Villanova defense loosened up in the loss.  The Wildcats held each of their first 13 opponents to 68 points or less. Before Thursday Villanova was allowing just 57.6 points per game and holding opponents to 37.9 percent shooting from the field.
Marquette shot 46 percent, including 41.7 percent from 3-point range.

"I think they're one of the better defenses in the country, actually," McNeal said of the Wildcats.

Offensively, however,  Villanova struggled to find a rhythm.  Their 30% shooting from 3-point range was made more difficult with only 11 offensive rebounds. Villanova entered the game averaging just 11.8 turnovers per game for the season but had 10 miscues in the first half and finished with 16 turnovers, its second-highest total of the year.

Villanova returns to action Tuesday against Seton Hall in New Jersey.  Marquette goes for their first 2-0 Big East start Sunday at home against Cincinnati.

Game Notes:

•    Villanova opened conference play on the road for the fourth consecutive season and dropped its third straight Big East opener to fall to 4-4 in such games under head coach Jay Wright.
•    Marquette is now 3-1 in Big East Conference openers.
•    The Wildcats' all-time record against Marquette is now 6-6, though the Golden Eagles have won three of the four meetings since they joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season.
•    Marquette sophomore Jimmy Butler recorded a career-high seven rebounds in his first Big East contest in 15 minutes of action.
•    Villanova has trailed at the half in both of its losses this season, though the team is 2-2 overall when going into the break facing a deficit.
•    The last time Villanova went this far into the season before allowing at least 70 points for the first time came all the way back in 1948-49 when the Wildcats also allowed 70 points for the first time in their 14th game of the year, a 75-43 loss to Loyola (Ill.).