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Villanova comes alive in 2nd Half to beat Marquette

New York City, N.Y. The Big East quarterfinals took place at the Worlds most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The matchup consisted of the #2 Villanova Wildcats (28-4, 14-4 Big East) versus the #7 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-13, 9-9 Big East). Both teams are well coached programs with rich history behind them. Marquette came into this game after defeating DePaul the night before.

Many of the fans in attendance wanted to see Villanova’s National Player of the year candidate Jalen Brunson in action. Brunson was a unanimous selection to the Big East Conference First Team for the second year straight. Mikal Bridges is another All Big East First Team selection who can fill up a stat sheet with ease. I’m sure the Marquette scouting report had those two players at the top of their list.

Both teams came out focused and looked prepared to go to war if necessary. Each coming out shooting with neither team able to solidify any dominance over the other. For the first 9 minutes Villanova only made 2 shots despite getting numerous good looks at the rim. It wasn’t until 3 minutes before the half that Villanova executed on some transition plays and slightly edged Marquette 41-34.

Despite holding on to a slim first half lead, this wasn’t the Villanova Wildcats that coach Jay Wright was used to. They seemed unsettled and weren’t playing Wildcat basketball. For Villanova it was Mikal Bridges leading the way in the first half with 16 points, while Jalen Brunson added 9.  On the other end the combination of senior guard Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard who kept the Golden Eagles in the game. Howard’s 4 three pointers and hot shooting from Rowsey gave them hope.

Villanova Wildcats Head Coach Jay Wright addressing the media after a win vs Marquette in the Quaterfinals of the Big East tournament. Photo ATH

Villanova Wildcats Head Coach Jay Wright addressing the media after a win vs Marquette in the Quaterfinals of the Big East tournament. Photo ATH

When the second half began it appeared as though Villanova coach Jay Wright inspired his team during the halftime break. They looked if there were making a definitive effort to get into the paint and get some easy shots to fall.  A 3-pointer from Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo and 4-point play from junior Mikal Bridges sparked a 12 point run that the Wildcats never looked back from. Their defensive pressure mounted early in the 2nd half and their lead swelled to 20.  Villanova pulled away in the second half to an easy 94-70 win that advances the Wildcats to the semifinal round of the tournament for the 20th time in program history. They completely dominated the 2nd half with their hot shooting and completely suffocated Marquette. They were just too much to contain and didn’t give up on their game plan. They shot an amazing 68% from the field and 64% from the arc.

Bridges led the way for the Wildcats scoring 25 points on eight rebounds and four assists. Jalen Brunson wasn’t far behind contributing 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. “Jalen (Brunson) and Mikal (Bridges) are our leaders,” Wright said. “They know, to start the game, they’ve got to get us going. And then after that with those two, their experience allows them to just read how the defense is playing them.”

There are no easy baskets in March. It’s going to take all of their weapons and an uncanny focus in order to make a substantial run in the NCAA tournament. This game was a good reminder that you have to keep your foot on the gas at all times and just fight through the stale periods of turnovers and missed shots in order to have success in this league. Villanova faces the Butler Bulldogs after their thrilling win vs Seton Hall.

Jay Wright ended the night off by saying “I’m really excited that we’re starting to get better defensively. That’s really what’s in front of my mind right now. I’m just most thankful to be the coach of Villanova. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the country.”

Cal Griffin is a contributing writer for

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