NEW YORK (AP) — Villanova called timeout and inserted Big East Sixth Man of the Year Josh Hart into the lineup. Just like that, a close game turned into a rout.
Hart scored 20 points, including 11 straight to spark a huge first-half run, and fourth-ranked Villanova ensured it would stick around at the conference tournament a bit longer this time with an 84-49 victory over Marquette in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Also the No. 1 seed a year ago, the Wildcats lost their first game in New York on a last-second shot to Seton Hall in this round. On Thursday, things were over much earlier as Villanova made 17 of 29 3-point attempts to win its 13th straight. The 17 3s tied a Big East Tournament record.
Hart made his first six field goals and first five 3-point attempts before finally missing more than four minutes into the second half. He was also one of the defenders who hounded Marquette sharp-shooter Matt Carlino into a quiet afternoon.
“He’s the perfect sixth man in that he can come in to fill any spot, any position, or any role — whatever you need at the time,” coach Jay Wright said.
After the Golden Eagles pulled to 18-16 midway through the first half, Hart hit three 3-pointers and made a tough layup to spark a 17-0 run. Hart drained another 3 with 11 seconds left in the half to send the Wildcats into the locker room with a 39-21 lead.
“After the first couple, you just get in a rhythm, get confidence, and my teammates did a great job finding me,” he said. “I really wasn’t thinking. I was just shooting.”
Ninth-seeded Marquette (13-19) had crushed Seton Hall 78-56 on Wednesday night, but Villanova (30-2) shut down nearly everything that had worked so well in that game. Carlino, who tied a Big East Tournament record with eight 3-pointers a day earlier, missed all five of his shots in the first half. Carlino finished with just five points after scoring 26 against the Pirates.
Derrick Wilson, who had 14 assists and just two turnovers Wednesday, committed nine turnovers. He led Marquette with 11 points and nine assists.
The Wildcats essentially have six starters when it comes to production and minutes. Hart just happens to begin games on the bench. Darrun Hilliard leads the way with 14.2 points per game, then five players average between 9.3 and 10.7.
On Thursday, Hilliard had 13 points and eight assists. The Golden Eagles came out in a zone, but Villanova hit some long early 3-pointers to force a tired defense into man-to-man.
“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.”
The Wildcats would likely lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a title at Madison Square Garden, though Wright insisted a No. 2 seed would be just fine. Villanova certainly looked like one of the top four teams in the country Thursday, mindful of last year’s slip-up.
“There’s no doubt it’s in the back of your mind,” Wright said. “We didn’t talk about it. I just think the experience of that is a part of these guys now. So I think they came really, really focused and ready for anything.”
BEST AND WORST
The 35-point margin was Villanova’s biggest Big East Tournament win in school history and the worst loss ever for Marquette in the tourney.
Villanova: The Wildcats matched the most wins in school history. The 2008-09 Final Four squad went 30-8. … Villanova has defeated Marquette in six straight meetings.
Marquette: After shooting 56.9 percent and committing just 11 turnovers Wednesday, the Golden Eagles shot 39.1 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 22 times.
Villanova faces fourth-seeded Providence in the semifinals Friday.
Marquette finished 13-19 in its first season under Wojciechowski.