Big East Sixth Man of the Year Josh Hart finished with 20 points.
By Barbara Harrison
Marquette was no match for the No. 1-seeded Wildcats in the Big East tourney.
In fact, no Big East team will be.
The Cats won 84-49 quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden, and they looked every bit like a team that is in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I don’t know if they could play much better,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “Certainly I don’t think they could shoot much better than they did. … Villanova is a team that could win the national championship. I think they have all the ingredients. They play like they did tonight, I don’t know how you beat them.”
The Wildcats came out firing and never trailed. They stroked four three-pointers against Marquette’s 2-3 zone in the opening minutes to open up a quick double-digit lead. The Golden Eagles tried switching its defense but never found an answer.
“If you’re playing zone and a team comes out and starts hitting threes like that, it makes it tough,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Then they had to switch to man-to-man and after playing last night, I don’t think they want to be chasing us around man-to-man.”
It wasn’t a blowout from the start, though. Marquette used an 8-0 run to pull within two at 18-16. However, that was as close as the game would get. Villanova used torrid three-point shooting and an antagonistic defense to launch a 19-0 run and never looked back.
By the end of the first half, the Wildcats were 10 of 16 from behind the arc and tied a Big East tournament record with 17 triples on the afternoon.
Josh Hart, the conference’s sixth man of the year, connected on all five of his first-half shots with four of them coming from long range to finish with a game-high 20 points.
“You’re talking about one of the most efficient teams in the country,” Wojciechowski said. “You bring a guy off the bench who can hit 7 out of 10 from the floor, 5 of 7 from three. … They don’t have any holes in their game.”
At the other end of the court, Marquette was flummoxed by Villanova’s defense, committing a season-high 22 turnovers. The Golden Eagles were uncomfortable on offense all afternoon. Passes intended for wide-open players flew out of bounds and the Wildcats finished with 12 steals.
Senior guard Derrick Wilson led Marquette in scoring for the first time this season and added nine assists, giving him 23 over his final two contests. However, he finished his Marquette career with nine turnovers — the most in his 132 games played.
Senior guard Matt Carlino, who made 8 three-pointers in Marquette’s 22-point win over Seton Hall on Wednesday night, never got into rhythm. Villanova’s defense haunted him all night as he finished with five points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“They’re so disciplined and they’re very good defensively,” Carlino said. “You don’t really get any lapses. You can’t get an open look. It’s a lot easier when you’re winning, but we kind of struggled today, which made it tougher for me because I felt like I couldn’t help the team.”
The Wildcats, led by Hart’s strong performance, shot 52.6% from the field and advanced to play No. 4 Providence in the semifinals Friday. Senior guard Darrun Hilliard had 13 points and junior guard Dylan Ennis had 12 for the Wildcats, who only got five points and four assists from conference co-player of the year Ryan Arcidiacono.
“It’s a tough conference and they’ve been the best team in the conference all year,” Carlino said. “To have your last game against them, you can at least look at that as you didn’t lose to someone you were better than. They were better than us.”
In the closing moments, Carlino, Wilson and fellow senior Juan Anderson were each subbed off the court individually for the final time. For Wilson and Anderson, their careers started with an Elite 8 appearance and ended without an NCAA Tournament appearance two years in a row.
“I wanted all of them to be recognized by the Marquette fans because they contribute a lot,” Wojciechowski said of the seniors. “Even though we didn’t get as many wins as we would like this year, the wins we do get in the future will be a result of the foundation that they laid.”