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Late-game issues rear head again for 'Nova in rare home loss

01/20/2022, 1:30am EST
By Matthew Ryan

Matthew Ryan (@matthewryan02)

VILLANOVA, Pa. — It had been nearly 1,500 days since what took place in the Pavilion on Wednesday last occurred. As a matter of fact, the Finneran Pavilion had a different name back then.

The thought of wearing masks everyday only popped into the heads of doctors, and not a single member of this Villanova roster was even in college yet.

Collin Gillespie (above, in Dec.) and Villanova struggled from the field in a loss to Marquette on Wednesday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

But after a stunning 57-54 loss to Marquette, Villanova’s 22-game Big East win streak at the Pavilion was snapped.

The loss ended No. 11 Villanova’s (13-5, 6-2 Big East) six game-winning streak, and on the other side, extended Marquette’s (13-6, 5-3) streak to five after starting out Big East play 0-3.

“I think we executed right to the end, we just we just didn't make the shots,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “But that’s going to happen sometimes. You look at other little things that you do when it’s a one possession game, the little things you can control. And that’s where I think they got us. On the little things like loose balls.”

For the entire season, the Wildcats have had a cloud of late-game collapses hovering over their head. They play well early on and take a significant lead late into the game, only to go cold in the closing minutes, missing out — or in some cases barely hanging onto — a win that was seemingly in their control.

It happened early on against No. 2 UCLA, the Wildcats leading by 10 with under 10 minutes to play only to lose in overtime. Against No. 6 Purdue, ‘Nova led by 11 with under 10 to go before the Boilermakers closed the game on a 37-20 run. Just last week at Xavier, leading by as many as 17 in the game and 12 in the final nine minutes, the Wildcats barely squeaked out a four-point win.

And on Wednesday, that flaw that has plagued Villanova’s season again and again, returned.

The first half was back-and-forth, with no team leading by more than six, and at the break, Marquette had a one-point advantage. Outside of Justin Moore and Eric Dixon, who had 10 and eight points in the period, respectively, Villanova struggled to score, as the rest of the team combined to shoot just 5-of-18 from the field and 1-of-8 from deep.

About six minutes into the second half, a Brandon Slater trey sparked a 12-0 run for the Wildcats and put them ahead by nine with 10:53 remaining. The Pavilion was rocking, and all the momentum was in Villanova’s favor. 

But as the game progressed, the Golden Eagles inched closer and closer. The Wildcats’ shots weren’t falling and Marquette got hot from deep, eventually finding themselves with the ball in a tie game and less that 40 seconds to go. On that possession, Caleb Daniels knocked the ball loose and dove on the floor. He was unable to corral the ball, and the game’s leading scorer Justin Lewis (21 points) picked it up and buried a three to give Marquette a lead it would not relinquish.

On the final possession for Villanova, Moore got a good look at a three but it didn’t fall, and Collin Gillespie’s ¾ court heave after he picked up the long rebound missed everything.

“We almost came up with a great steal on the play,” Moore said. “But things happen… just got to come back and make a play.”

Gillespie’s final miss capped off a 1-for-8 stretch for Villanova in the final seven minutes, the Wildcats only scoring three points over that time frame.

What caused the late game collapse on Wednesday?

“Sometimes it's your decision making. Sometimes it's a tough break. I think there was both,” Wright said. “Like I said, we missed some layups, and they did a good job too. So it's not a one thing. I'd say, some tough shots we normally make (we didn’t). I think we made some poor decisions and I think they really cranked up the defense when they got down instead of folding, I think they picked up their defense.”

Much like the losses to UCLA and Purdue, Wright’s bench was virtually non-existent with the exception of Daniels, who struggled in the game going 2-9 from the field and 1-5 from three. Bryan Antione and Jordan Longino were the only other players to get reserved minutes, playing a combined six.

“I just felt like we weren't executing the way we wanted to,” Wright said. “And we wanted to keep some veteran guys in there. And then that definitely was part of going down the stretch.”

Despite the loss, Villanova remains atop of the Big East with 12 games still to come. There will be plenty of opportunities for the Wildcats to re-right the ship, including a rematch at Marquette in just a couple of weeks. As the season moves on, Wright and Co. will continue to approach each game as they always do.

“I think because of these two guys, Justin and Collin, we have a one game at a time mentality,” Wright said. “If we would have won this game, we would have still come back and try to get better and look at some of the things that we didn't do well. ... We're gonna try to do that every game and try to be the best team we can by the end so I hope we can, and I think we will continue that growth.”

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