MILWAUKEE (AP)—It didn’t take No. 14 Marquette long to move on from its last loss—about the time it took Darius Johnson-Odom to convert an alley-oop pass for a dunk.
Johnson-Odom matched a season-high with 24 points and led the Golden Eagles to an 81-77 victory over Villanova on Sunday.
Reserve forward Davante Gardner had 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for the Golden Eagles (12-2, 1-0 Big East), who responded from their worst performance of the season—a 17-point drubbing by Vanderbilt on Thursday—with a solid start to the conference season.
“Everybody was down on themselves after the loss, just trying to figure out ways for us to get better,” Johnson-Odom said. “And that’s what we did the next day. We did a lot of drills, a lot of five-on-five drills and a lot of competing.
“We just have to get back to playing hard, and I think we did that today.”
It took 33 seconds to turn things around, with Vander Blue tossing a pass to a cutting Johnson-Odom at the rim, and the senior guard, generously listed at 6-foot-2, throwing it down on Marquette’s first offensive possession. The Golden Eagles never trailed from there.
“That was a read,” Johnson-Odom said. “That usually doesn’t happen for me. But Van made a good play, I finished it off. That is what started our run and gave us more energy.”
Mouphtaou Yarou had 14 points for the Wildcats (7-7, 0-2) and JayVaughn Pinkston had a career-high 13.
The Wildcats, without a scholarship senior, are off to their worst start in coach Jay Wright’s 11 seasons and have lost seven of 10 after starting the season 4-0.
“They’re a good team, a real good team,” Wright said, calling Johnson-Odom “a hell of a player.”
“They do a great job of finding him in transition and he does a great job being patient and waiting for the ball to get to him in the offense,” Wright said. “I thought we did a better job (on him) in the second half. But that first half run he had . that was a killer.”
Marquette led 42-39 at halftime and opened the first 2-plus minutes of the second half on a 9-0 run. Jae Crowder scored seven points during the spurt.
Villanova cut it to 53-46 before Todd Mayo converted a three-point play and Johnson-Odom followed with a 3-pointer to put the Golden Eagles up by 15 points.
Villanova closed within five with two free throws by Darrun Hilliard and a 3-pointer by Achraf Yacoubou with 1:51 remaining. But the Wildcats could get no closer until a tip-in by Maurice Sutton with 6.7 seconds left.
Marquette’s Junior Cadougan made two free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining to seal it. The Golden Eagles missed 4 of 8 free throws over the final 37 seconds.
“I don’t think you put any Big East team away,” Johnson-Odom said. “You just have to find ways to win. I like the way we stayed focused and came out with a `W.”’
Especially after what happened Thursday.
“Our guys’ response from the debacle on Thursday was outstanding,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “I thought we played with great energy. I thought we had purpose in what we were doing offensively and defensively. Pleased, from top to bottom.”
After starting 10-0, Marquette had lost two of three, and Johnson-Odom had struggled in the last two games, scoring 12 points against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Vanderbilt on 9-of-27 shooting. He scored18 points in the first half Sunday, as Marquette led by as many as 11 several times.
Johnson-Odom, who came in averaging 17.4 points, scored in a variety of ways in the first half, including three 3-pointers and a layup in traffic after getting his defender in the air with a shot fake on the wing. Johnson-Odom had a nice assist, driving the baseline, drawing the defense and kicking out to a wide-open Mayo for a 3.
“After the game, I was extremely pleased with how they responded, with Darius being at the top of the list,” Williams said. “I think he played really well offensively because he played extremely hard. He played for other guys on our team. The ball never stuck in his hands. And I thought he was as good as he’s been in a long, long time defensively.”
Jamil Wilson replaced Gardner in Marquette’s starting lineup. Gardner, who had started the last five games as a replacement for the injured Chris Otule, had just two points and two rebounds in 5 minutes in the loss to Vanderbilt.
But Sunday was a different day for Gardner and the Golden Eagles.
“No energy,” Gardner said. “That’s the only thing. We had a lot of energy today. We just forgot about the Vanderbilt game. It’s a new season, 0-0.”
Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, Villanova’s starting guards, combined to score 18 points on 6-of-23 shooting, and both fouled out. Hilliard and Ty Johnson also fouled out.
Markus Kennedy had a collegiate-high 12 rebounds and equaled his season-high with eight points for Villanova, which was 3 of 17 on 3s.
The Wildcats opened Big East play with an 83-69 loss on Wednesday at West Virginia and have not looked like the team that has averaged more than 24 wins a season the past seven years and appeared in the NCAA tournament in each of them.
“We didn’t play 40 minutes but we did play the last 4 minutes of each half,” Wright said. “When you’re talking about these things, that’s not a good sign, but I do see signs of promise in this group.”
That is certainly the case with Marquette.
“Play hard,” Williams said. “That’s an expectation now. You are not going to win if you are the hardest-playing team. That’s what we have been built to be, and we were not that on Thursday, and that’s why we had the worst home loss we’ve had since we’ve been here.”