#8 Villanova Wildcats Sit Atop Big East with Victory Over Marquette 73-56 at Wells Fargo Center

Darrun Hilliard’s sharp shooting led the Villanova Wildcats to a 73-56 win over Marquette on Sunday afternoon (March 2nd) at the Wells Fargo Center, in a nationally televised game on CBS. With the win, the Wildcats earned their 26th victory of the regular season,  a new bench mark in Villanova basketball history. Villanova has won 25 games in the regular season five times, most recently in 2008-2009. The win, combined with Creighton’s loss Saturday evening to Xavier, also elevated the Wildcats into sole possession of first place in the Big East.

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Forced to play most of the first half with leading scorer James Bell and play-maker Ryan Arcidiacono on the bench as a result of foul trouble, Villanova rode the hot-hand of Hilliard and the spark off the bench from Josh Hart and Tony Chennault to a 36-25 lead at the intermission. Hilliard scored 18 first half points, Hart had 7 and Chennault contributed 5. Hilliard and Hart combined to score Villanova’s first 20 points of the first half.

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Villanova opened the second half with triples from Hilliard, Arcidiacono (his first points of the game), and Kris Jenkins, to push their lead to 45-27 with 15:49 to play. Marquette rallied behind Freshman Deonte Burton, who scored 13 consecutive points for the visitors, to cut the Wildcats lead to 13 points (on two occasions). Villanova, however, continued to play sturdy defense and kept the Golden Eagles at bay the rest of the way. The Wildcats, with key contributions from JayVaughn Pinkston, Jenkins, and Hart, were able to maintain a double-digit lead throughout the second half.

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Hilliard scored a game-high 26 points, shooting 7 of 11 field goal attempts (5 of 8 from long-range), and hitting 7 of 10 free throws. Hart with 13 points, and Pinkston with 11, also scored in double figures for Villanova. Ochefu and Pinkston were the Wildcats leading rebounders with 7 apiece. Overall, Villanova shot 23 of 53 from the field (43.4 %), 12 of 29 from distance (41.4 %), and 15 of 22 from the charity stripe (68.2%). Villanova grabbed 33 boards to Marquette’s 34. The Wildcats had 17 assists versus 14 turnovers. James Bell, Villanova’s leading scorer this season, entered the game 6 points shy of 1,000 for his career, but was held scoreless.

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Marquette was led in scoring by Burton with 13 points. The only other double figure scorer for the Golden Eagles was Todd Mayo with 11. Davante Gardner, Marquette’s leading scorer this season, ended up with 8 points – all coming in the first half. The Golden Eagles were held to 18 of 45 shooting (40%) and to 4 of 15 from three point range (26.7 %). Marquette had 11 assists and 15 turnovers in the game.

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Villanova, with the win, now stands at 26-3 overall, 14-2 Big East. Marquette fell to 17-12, 9-7 Big East. Villanova next plays on Thursday, March 6th at 7pm at Xavier. The game will be televised on Fox Sports 1. Marquette returns to action on Tuesday night when it plays at Providence. Villanova will close out its regular season next Saturday afternoon, March 8th, at the Wells Fargo Center when they host the Georgetown Hoyas in a 2pm tip off. With wins in their final two regular season contests, the Wildcats will clinch the regular season Big East title and a #1 seed in the Big East tournament.

[Photo credit: Christian Hafer]

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