PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Marquette was able to accomplish something no other team has this season: hold Villanova’s leading scorer James Bell without a point.
Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, the attention they put on Bell allowed Darrun Hilliard and others to torch them.
Hilliard scored a career-high 26 points and No. 8 Villanova set a school record for regular-season wins with a 73-56 victory over Marquette on Sunday.
“We did a good job against Bell but did a horrific job against Hilliard,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “So it’s kind of a give and take.”
Josh Hart added 13 points and JayVaughn Pinkston had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats (26-3, 14-2 Big East), who have won four straight and 10 of 11.
The Wildcats had never won 26 regular-season games in the 95-year history of the program. Villanova won 25 games four previous times, most recently in 2008-09, a season it reached the Final Four.
Deonte Burton scored 13 points for Marquette (17-12, 9-7) and Todd Mayo finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
“I was proud of that effort,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I know Marquette’s a good, hungry team and they play hard. It’s hard to match that level.”
Playing in the Wells Fargo Center – the home of the Philadelphia 76ers – Hilliard almost looked like an NBA guard with the kind of show he put on for the fans. The 6-foot-6 junior guard had 18 points in first half, shot 5 for 8 from 3-point range for the game and set his career high with a dazzling drive that put the Wildcats up 66-47 with 4:58 left.
Hilliard’s previous career high of 25 points came in an upset win over Syracuse last season – also at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Hilliard has always caused us problems but that’s partly because we’re so concerned with Pinkston, Bell and (Ryan Arcidiacono),” Williams said. “It’s a collection of how they play that I think makes them so good.”
Trying to make a late push to get into the NCAA tournament for the ninth straight year, Marquette came in having won five of six, including an important two-point victory over Georgetown on Thursday.
But the Golden Eagles never threatened to upset the Wildcats, shooting just 4 for 15 from 3-point range and 16 for 25 from the free throw line. They committed 15 turnovers.
“I would say the number one disappointment is we didn’t play as hard as we have to play on the road to beat a team as good as Villanova,” Williams said.
After falling behind by 11 points at halftime, Marquette made just one field goal through the first 5 minutes of the second half to allow Villanova to open a 48-29 lead.
Villanova led by double digits the rest of the way to move one full game ahead of No. 9 Creighton for first place in the Big East.
The Wildcats’ only two conference losses have come to Creighton, which fell out of first after losing to Xavier on Saturday.
“I don’t think they’re going to win our league or they’re eighth in the country based on one number,” Williams said. “I think they’re really good in each phase of the game but I also think they play for one another. I think they play incredibly hard and I think they play with great spirit.”
Hilliard and Hart combined to score Villanova’s first 20 points, before Pinkston and Tony Chennault scored the next nine for the Wildcats. Daniel Ochefu then forced a steal, ran ahead of the pack and had a transition dunk to cap a 17-4 run and send Villanova to a 31-18 lead with 3:18 left in the first half.
The Golden Eagles cut the deficit to six points a couple of minutes later, but Hilliard scored five straight points to close the half, hitting two free throws after Williams was called for a technical foul and drilling a 3-pointer with 2 seconds remaining.
“I wasn’t trying to get a technical,” Williams said. “I was trying to call a timeout.”
The Wildcats led 36-25 at halftime despite foul-plagued starting guards Arcidiacono and Bell playing just 6 and 5 minutes, respectively. Neither scored in the first half – but that didn’t slow down ‘Nova.
“In the first half, when we were playing without James Bell and Ryan Arch, I thought our energy level actually went up,” Wright said. “I thought we were actually a quicker team. And then those guys were really fresh in the second half.
“We’ve been trying to build our depth throughout the season and that was really important to have that first half like that.”
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