By Michael Wottreng
PHILADELPHIA — Marquette made six clutch free throws over the final half minute to thwart Villanova’s upset bid and earn its second Big East road win 82-78.
Vander Blue, the worst free throw shooter on the floor at 62%, made four, sandwiched around a pair from Jae Crowder, to help the Golden Eagles hold on.
“I don’t think you can go on the road in our league and have a chance unless you’re tough. And you can’t be tough on game day unless you’re tough every day,” coach Buzz Williams said of his team’s resiliency.
Marquette (18-4, 7-2 Big East) did not get their first lead until a Jamil Wilson layup with 11:39 left in the game put the Golden Eagles up 57-55. Villanova (10-12, 3-7 Big East) scored the next six points before senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom took over.
Johnson-Odom scored 12 of the next 16 points for the Golden Eagles. His final points of the stretch put Marquette up for good. Johnson-Odom finished with a season-high 26 points going 9-for-20 from the floor including 3-of-7 from three point range.
With 46 seconds left and up three, Marquette lost and in-bounds play underneath its own basket when Maurice Sutton tipped the ball off of Jamil Wilson, giving the Wildcats a chance a chance to tie.
Dominic Cheek took a contested three from the right wing that missed everything and fell into the hands of Blue. The fans at the Wells Fargo Center were baffled by the junior’s shot when only 13 seconds had run off the clock. Villanova would never have a shot to tie the game after that.
For the fifth time in six games, Marquette trailed by at least six points in the first half. Villanova got off to a 14-3 start at the first media timeout and led by as much as 18 in the first half.
The Golden Eagles got the lead to single digits for the first time since the 15:57 mark with a 3-pointer from Johnson-Odom with 3:30 left in the half. The lead was nine and Marquette could not put a dent into the lead any further.
Villanova feasted off of Marquette turnovers in the first half. The Golden Eagles gave the ball away eight times. The Wildcats converted those turnovers into 15 points.
The tables turned in the second half. The Golden Eagles were able to force nine turnovers in the second half that they cashed into 14 points, aiding the comeback.
Marquette was able to cut the lead to five on an alley-oop from Johnson-Odom to Blue two minutes into the second half. Villanova promptly answered with a 5-0 run of its own to get the lead back to ten points.
Marquette slowly chipped into the lead and, with the help of some timely officiating, was able to get the lead. The Golden Eagles trailed 69-65 with six minutes left when Maalik Wayns was whistled for a technical foul. Johnson-Odom knocked in both free throws and Jae Crowder made a layup off a no look pass from Davante Gardner to start an 8-0 Golden Eagles run. Marquette would never trail again.
It was Marquette’s sixth consecutive win in Big East play. Marquette won its 18th game almost a month earlier than last year’s team did. The Golden Eagles did not win their 18th game until Feb. 27th last year.
The Golden Eagles return to Milwaukee to host Seton Hall (15-5, 4-4 Big East) in an attempt to avenge a 13 point loss in Newark last season.