VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)—One or two more baskets is all that separated Marquette from enjoying a breakthrough season with two wins against the preseason Big East favorite.
Coach Jay Wright’s sixth-ranked Wildcats refused to relinquish the top spot that easily. For the second straight Saturday, Villanova held on down the stretch for a win at the wire against the Golden Eagles.
Corey Stokes scored 16 points after missing a game with a hamstring injury and Villanova survived a second scare in eight days against Marquette in a 78-76 win on Saturday.
“They wore us out a little bit,” Wright said.
But it’s Marquette that is should be tired of going down again to the Wildcats after four straight losses in 11 months.
The Wildcats (14-1, 3-0 Big East) surged to a 22-point lead early in the second half only to have it eaten into by a series of late 3s by the Golden Eagles.
It was the second weekend thriller between the powerhouse Wildcats and the rebuilding Golden Eagles (10-6, 1-3). Scottie Reynolds, the star of Villanova’s Final Four run last season, scored the go-ahead basket with 18.1 seconds left last Saturday to beat Marquette 74-72 in their Big East opener.
Late in this game, Reynolds gave the Golden Eagles an opportunity when he lost control of the ball just past halfcourt and Lazar Hayward pounced. Hayward was fouled hard from behind by Stokes and crashed to the court. Stokes was whistled for an intentional foul with 27 seconds left that had the home crowd howling in protest.
Hayward calmly made both to make it 75-73. The Golden Eagles retained possession, but got nothing out of it once Jimmy Butler was swarmed on a double team and fumbled away the ball.
This time, the Wildcats pounced.
Antonio Pena made two free throws and Dominic Cheek went 1 for 2 from the line to seal the win.
Reynolds finished with 15 points, and Pena and Corey Fisher each scored 11.
Hayward finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, and Darius Johnson-Odum had 16 points. Johnson-Odum tossed in a long 3 at the buzzer to make the final margin only two points.
“I never expected to be up 20,” Wright said. “And then you never expect it to be two.”
Hayward sparked reeling Marquette, hitting four 3-pointers in the second half to help whittle the deficit to single digits and put Villanova’s three-year home winning streak in jeopardy.
It wouldn’t end Saturday. The Wildcats won their 35th straight game at the Pavilion.
“I don’t feel sorry for our team, I don’t feel sorry for me, I don’t feel sorry for our coaches,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
Stokes sat out Villanova’s 99-72 win against DePaul on Wednesday after straining his right hamstring in Monday’s practice. The 6-foot-5 guard didn’t appear bothered by the hamstring in one of his finest games of the season.
“They got me the ball, they had confidence in me, and I knocked down shots,” Stokes said.
He hit a 3-pointer during an early 14-5 run that helped Villanova grab a 31-19 lead at the break.
“That’s the team we can be,” Reynolds said. “There’s no limit on this team if we can do it for 40 minutes. Right now, we’re not capable of doing it as a team for 40 minutes. When we can get to that point, we can be something special.”
Villanova stretched its lead to 52-30 before Marquette—specifically, Hayward—really got going.
Hayward’s second 3-pointer pulled the Golden Eagles to 59-50 and was the first time their deficit was in the single digits in the second half. His next 3 chipped it to 61-53 and had the Wildcats on the ropes.
After his fourth 3 got Marquette all the way back to 64-59, Wright started screaming and pointing at Hayward’s direction to get a Wildcat to cover him.
“They just started finding the open guy and we were a step slow in our rotation,” Wright said.
Taylor King and Reggie Redding each followed with layups that temporarily helped fend off Marquette’s hard-charging run.
“I’m disappointed we put ourselves in position that we had to come back,” Williams said.
King was involved in a scary moment with 2:10 left when he dove for a loose ball and his head plowed into Hayward’s waist. King was down for several minutes and was in agony as he grabbed the back of his head. Wright immediately rushed to King’s aid. King, a transfer from Duke, walked off on his own power and returned to the bench.
Wright said King suffered a stinger.
The Wildcats shot 63 percent in the second half from the floor; Marquette kept up by shooting 11 for 23 from behind the arc.