PHILADELPHIA (AP)—With the crowd in the NBA arena rocking and rooting against Marquette in a pivotal Big East game, coach Tom Crean compared the atmosphere to playing in the Sweet 16.
While the 21st-ranked Golden Eagles know what being in a big game feels like, Crean isn’t ready to say his team is good enough to advance that deep in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re not nearly as good if we start jumping ahead,” Crean said.
Jumping all over Villanova on Monday night was good enough.
Dominic James had six steals, hit five 3s and scored 25 points in a stellar all-around effort that led Marquette to an 85-75 victory over the Wildcats.
“Dominic James was great,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “He played with great toughness. He hit big-time shots. His 3s in the second half were just killers.”
James had plenty of help in Marquette’s fifth straight win and eighth in the last 10 games.
Lazar Hayward added 15 points and nine rebounds, Jerel McNeal scored 14 points and Maurice Acker had 12 for Marquette (21-6, 11-5 Big East).
Scottie Reynolds led Villanova (17-10, 7-8) with 14 points, while Dante Cunningham and Corey Stokes each scored 13.
The Golden Eagles went 10-for-23 from 3-point range; Villanova was only 2-for-15.
The Wildcats had won four of five overall, including a 67-65 victory over then-No. 13 Connecticut on Saturday, that again energized their hopes for a possible NCAA tournament at-large bid. A win over the Golden Eagles would have been a huge boost to their confidence and RPI, especially with a game Saturday at No. 13 Louisville.
“It’s what’s tough about the Big East, but it’s what’s great about the Big East, you get chances to prove yourself against the best teams,” Wright said. “We love it, we really do.”
Now, Villanova’s bid for a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance is a long shot.
“You’ve got to feel like, OK, we’re going to take that steady climb. We’re going to keep going,” Wright said. “Then when it doesn’t happen, it brings you back to reality.”
The Wildcats blew an early second-half lead mostly because of a season-high 23 turnovers. They flopped on some ill-timed bad passes that either sailed out of bounds or were converted into easy baskets by Marquette.
“We wanted to rush them at the 3-point line and make them get the ball inside,” James said. “That showed how aggressive our defense was.”
Two costly turnovers came midway through the second half that allowed Marquette to grab a double-digit lead and take control of the game.
David Cubillan stole a pass under the basket—Villanova’s 20th turnover— and scored an easy layup. Cunningham was whistled for goaltending on the next possession to help Marquette take a 68-58 lead.
“That kind of wore us down there,” Wright said. “That’s where you have to give them credit because there were a lot of ‘toughness’ plays. They made all those aggressive, smart, experienced plays.”
The Wildcats had opened a small lead on a string of tough inside baskets. Reynolds slowly dribbled the ball to halfcourt, saw an opening and streaked through two defenders for an underhanded layup. He drew a foul and converted the three-point play for a 52-51 lead.
Dwayne Anderson had the dunk of the game when he was there to slam Corey Fisher’s missed layup just as the ball was about to fall off the rim, sending the Wachovia Center crowd into a frenzy.
The Golden Eagles ended the rally in a hurry.
Acker and James hit consecutive 3s and James followed a Villanova basket with another 3-pointer that gave the Golden Eagles a 62-56 lead.
“I was just feeling it and they were finding me,” James said.
Stokes scored 11 points in the first half to help the Wildcats take a 39-32 lead.