Marquette remains tied for first place in the Big East by grinding out victory over Villanova at Fiserv Forum

Most of the talk surrounding the Marquette men’s basketball team this season has been about its high-octane offense.

The Golden Eagles have been up-and-down on defense, but there are often flashes that they can excel at that end of the court as well.

The flashiest sequence of the season came down the stretch against Villanova on Wednesday, with MU making seven straight stops to grind out a 73-64 victory at Fiserv Forum.

BOX SCORE: Marquette 73, Villanova 64

MU (18-5, 10-2 Big East) – ranked 14th in the Associated Press top 25 and No. 12 in the USA Today coaches poll - kept pace with Xavier atop the conference standings and swept the Wildcats (10-12, 4-7) for the second straight season.

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“We had to ramp up our level of violence,” MU head coach Shaka Smart said. “We were talking about it all game long in our huddles.

“But one of the things about being at this level of basketball is it’s really, really easy to talk about what needs to occur. It’s really hard to go do it at this level against a bunch of guys that, I mean, their starting lineup is four old, old guys that played huge roles in taking that team to the Final Four last year and then a McDonald’s All-American (freshman Cam Whitmore).”

Golden Eagles' defense makes seven straight stops late in game

The Golden Eagles had trouble finding seams in the Wildcats’ switching scheme, with Villanova taking a 35-34 lead at halftime despite coughing the ball up 11 times.

“They’re great on defense,” Kolek said. “They switch every time. So it’s hard to go downhill because they kind of form that wall where you can’t drive in there. It doesn’t really cause much help. We had to play more one-on-one than we normally would like to do.”

MU didn’t take its first lead until Kolek drained a three-pointer to make it 45-44 with just under 13 minutes remaining.

The teams jockeyed back and forth for a few minutes. But after Kolek gave the Golden Eagles a 63-62 lead at the 4:32 mark, MU held Villanova without a point until Caleb Daniels dunked with 10 seconds remaining and the outcome already decided.

“We were talking about it all night, we had to pick it up,” Kolek said. “We were going to win it on the defensive end. That’s every game for us.

“Every game that we start scoring it starts on the defensive end. I set the tone, I had to pick them up full court, just try something different, switch it up. I felt it just changed from there.”

Tyler Kolek a Big East player of the year candidate

Kolek is making a strong case for Big East player of the year.

After a near-triple double against DePaul on Saturday, Kolek put up 20 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals versus the Wildcats.

“Taking what the defense gives me and doing what my teammates need,” Kolek said. “This game, they weren’t causing much help. They were letting us play one-on-one a little bit. I just took what they gave me and decided to score.”

Kolek shot 3 for 6 on three-pointers and also hit some tough, hanging layups in the paint.

“I put in a lot of work but moreso than anything it’s about confidence,” Kolek said. “My shooting, my finishing. Everything on offense. My passing. It’s all about confidence with the ball and confidence in yourself.”

Sean Jones misses second straight game, but Kam Jones is OK enough to hit halfcourt shot

Kolek played 37 minutes because backup point guard Sean Jones missed his second straight game with a wrist injury.

“Need to determine what the best course of action is for him,” Smart said. “But he’ll have the same sort of status (for Saturday’s game versus Butler) he had going into today.”

Kam Jones, MU’s leading scorer, was questionable coming into the game after falling hard on his hip on Saturday.

Jones played 34 minutes and scored 18 points. He hit a key layup in the final four minutes, but his biggest shot probably came right before halftime when he pulled up from halfcourt and nailed a three to give MU some juice heading into the break.

“He didn’t practice on (Monday) and he did some stuff yesterday,” Smart said. “He wasn’t 100%. I think the toughness he showed really, really helped our team.

“And then when he made that shot, Kam holds himself to such a high standard so as much as anything it helped him and our team feel better going into the locker room at halftime after a challenging half.”

What was up with that jug on Marquette’s bench?

MU walk-on Jonah Lucas could be seen for most of the game hoisting a silver water pitcher.

That jug turned out to be one Smart’s motivational tricks.

“We have a theme every game and the theme for this game was what was important now,” Kolek said. “What was important now was this game.

“We went into the film room and every guy wrote down on a sticky note what they were going to do to help the team positively. For me, it was stay super positive and encourage every guy even if things aren’t going our way. Each guy had their own thing.”

The sticky notes were placed in the jug.

“Most of the stuff I do is stolen from other people but that one I just kind of came up with,” Smart said. “I just said, ‘Guys, we got to pour into each other.’ And that’s our biggest advantage, how everybody feels about each other in our room.”

Smart seems to be pushing all the right buttons this season, with the Golden Eagles chasing a conference title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s early February,” Smart said. “This time of year is all about growing and improving and trying to work toward playing your best basketball at the end of the year.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Marquette beats Villanova 73-64 at Fiserv Forum