MILWAUKEE — Villanova coach Jay Wright seemed relieved being able to leave Marquette with a victory.
The top-ranked Wildcats’ trademark pressure defense forced the young Golden Eagles to get careless with the ball. But the Wildcats might also need some extra practice to avoid turnovers themselves.
Kris Jenkins scored 19 points, Josh Hart had 19 on 7-of-8 shooting, and Wright’s team capitalized on turnovers to pull away for an 89-79 victory Saturday.
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"Tough, tough Big East game. It would seem that we would be disappointed in how sloppy we played and the turnovers but Marquette is the best in our league at turning people over," Wright said.
The Wildcats (25-4, 14-2 Big East) rebounded nicely after a midweek loss at No. 5 Xavier to stay atop the conference, one game ahead of the Musketeers.
"We couldn’t dwell on the past," forward Daniel Ochefu said. "Everybody … did a good job of making sure we moved on to our next challenge."
The 6-foot-11 Ochefu had 18 points and 12 rebounds and he gave Villanova an inside presence to complement Jenkins’ outside shooting. Jenkins was 4 of 9 from 3-point range.
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, Marquette (18-11, 7-9) got within 42-39 with 19:46 left on two free throws by Duane Wilson.
But the Golden Eagles wilted against the Wildcats’ pressure. Villanova forced three turnovers en route to an 8-0 run to take a double-digit lead, before hitting free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Marquette committed 17 turnovers and got outscored 27-20 on points off turnovers.
"Our turnovers led to some very easy baskets for them," coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "We can’t do that. We have a hard enough time stopping them when it’s 5-on-5."
But Marquette matched Villanova by forcing 17 turnovers, including 13 steals. Jajuan Johnson had 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting and five steals for Marquette.
AT THE HALF
The active Johnson and freshman forward Henry Ellenson combined for 21 points in the first half on 7-of-7 shooting.
Marquette trailed 42-37 at halftime, and their vocal fans held out hope that their school could pull off their first win over a top-ranked team since defeating Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in 2003.
But Villanova turned up the pressure whenever the game got tight. Jenkins hit a 3 following the third Marquette turnover early in the second half to give the Wildcats an 11-point lead with 17:53 left.
"They’re the best in the nation at making you pay for" turnovers, Marquette forward Wally Ellenson said. "When they get that turnover, they’re going to (try) to score every time."
The Wildcats enter the final week of the regular season in control of the Big East. They can ensure a third straight conference regular season title with wins at home over DePaul and Georgetown to wrap up the schedule.
For Marquette, the 6-11 Henry Ellenson finished with 13 points, just three in the second half. He was forced to play out of position more at center with starter Luke Fischer hampered by foul trouble.
The team’s leading scorer also faced constant double- or triple-teams when he touched the ball. But the freshman of the year candidate added another accomplishment to his resume, setting the school freshman career scoring mark with 481 points. Dominic James held the record previously with 473 in 2005-06.
Ellenson’s older brother, Wally had a career-high 11 points.
Villanova: The Wildcats allowed an opponent to score more than 67 points for a second straight game after holding its seven previous opponents under that mark. … Villanova finished 10-2 in road games.
Marquette: The team fell to 1-9 overall against No. 1 teams. … The only other game at the Bradley Center against a top-ranked team came on Jan. 23, 2000, a 72-60 loss to Cincinnati.