Same old story for Marquette. A close game and another win.
Same old story for the best teams in the Big East tournament. Earn a double bye and head home early. Lazar Hayward gave Marquette the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 1:51 to play, then added the clinching free throws with 3.2 seconds left, and the Golden Eagles beat No. 10 Villanova 80-76 on Thursday in the quarterfinals.
The Golden Eagles have played 20 games against Big East opponents this season and 13 have been decided by four points or less. Marquette has learned how to survive the close ones, winning seven of the last eight games in that situation and all of those were by three points or less.
"It’s very hard to win games when your opponent shoots 54 percent and outrebounds you by five," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "But our guys hung in there. We were a little out of sorts over the last minute because we were concerned that the scoreboard malfunctioned. We ended up winning by four. It’s been a long time since we’ve done that. And so we’re thankful it ended the way it did."
Fifth-seeded Marquette (22-10) will face eighth-seeded Georgetown in the semifinals Friday night. The loss for fourth-seeded Villanova (24-7), coupled with top-seeded Syracuse‘s 91-84 loss to the Hoyas earlier, dropped the teams that had earned double byes to 0-2 – and both came against teams they had beaten twice during the season. Last year, the first one with all 16 teams participating, the top four seeds followed their double byes by going 2-2 in the quarterfinals.
"I think that happens every year in the tournament. I think that’s what is great about tournaments," Villanova coach Jay Wright said of top teams getting beaten in the postseason. "We’ve all played each other. We all know each other. I think that’s what makes the games great."
Wright is still a fan of being allowed to skip the first two rounds of a tournament. "If we would have won, you only have two more games to win a championship," he said. "We all know the NCAA tournament is important. Your top teams aren’t beat down. … There’s still a great advantage to only playing three games in a tournament and having a chance to win it all."
Marquette, which beat St. John’s 57-55 in the second round, is making its second semifinal appearance, losing to Pittsburgh in 2008.
Darius Johnson-Odom was 5 of 7 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 24 points for the Golden Eagles, while Hayward had 20 points and seven rebounds.
"I think today I was attacking more, trying to create not just for myself but for my teammates," said Johnson-Odom, who had seven points on 3-of-7 shooting against St. John’s. "Yesterday I thought I was a little passive on both ends of the court."
Corey Stokes had 22 points for the Wildcats, who have lost five of six and have seen their expected seeding for the NCAA tournament continue to drop.
"We need to get better. I think we can," Wright said. "We’ll take a day or two off. But we’ll have some good practices and we’ll improve between now and the time we play our first tournament game."
These teams met twice in early January and Villanova won both games by two points. They were part of a stretch that saw the Golden Eagles get off to a 2-5 start in conference play. They were able to turn that around with a five-game winning streak and finished 11-7 in the league.
Marquette appeared to be on the way to a rare easy win as it took a 65-57 lead on Johnson-Odom’s last 3 with 4:54 to go.
The Wildcats turned on the defensive pressure with midcourt traps and wiped out that lead in 1:20 by forcing three straight turnovers to make it 65-all on a layup by Fisher with 3:34 to play.
Stokes hit a 3 to tie it at 70 with 2:22 to go. Hayward then hit a 3 from beyond the NBA line to break the final tie.
"When I had that 3 I had a little space and I seen he had his hands down. I just shot it and it was a rhythm shot," said Hayward, who was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. "Coach never gets mad if we shoot rhythm 3s. It went in and it definitely was a big momentum swing for us."
The Golden Eagles went 7 of 8 from the free-throw line the rest of the way, the last two by Hayward with 3.2 seconds to go that made it 80-76.
Marquette was able to control the tempo for most of the game, keeping the Wildcats from opening the game they way they like in leading the conference at 82.8 points per game.
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova‘s first-team All-Big East selection, was 4 of 10 from the field, including 2 of 5 on 3s, and had 10 points. He was 5 of 16 from the field, making only 1 of 9 from 3 including a possible game-winner, and had 17 points in the 68-66 loss to West Virginia to close the regular season.