MU leaps Wildcat hurdle, lands in semis

After four-straight losses to Villanova - going back to last year's Big East Tournament - the Golden Eagles topped the Wildcats 80-76 to earn a trip to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.

This time around, Marquette got the last laugh.

For the second straight day, Marquette pulled out a victory in the final minutes, defeating Villanova 80-76 in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.

It was sweet revenge for Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles, who lost a heartbreaker to Villanova in last season's quarterfinals and fell to the Wildcats twice this season by a combined four points.

Lazar Hayward hit a clutch three-pointer with just under two minutes to go, and the Golden Eagles used solid defense and near perfect free throw shooting to hang on for their sixth victory in their last seven tries.

Darius Johnson-Odom led the way for Marquette with a career-high 24 points, while Hayward scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Johnson-Odom, who scored just seven points yesterday against St. John's, did a better job creating off the dribble as well as knocking down his outside shots.

"I think today I was attacking more and trying to create, not just for myself but for my teammates" Johnson-Odom said. "Yesterday I thought I was a little passive on both ends of the court."

Marquette used an 8-0 run midway through the first half to take a nine point lead, but the Wildcats closed the first half on a 13-4 run to tie things up heading into the intermission.

The Golden Eagles shot just 34 percent in the first half, but made 5-of-12 from behind the arc. They also scored 10 points off 10 Villanova turnovers, compared with zero points off turnovers for Villanova.

In the second half, Villanova jumped out to an early six-point lead after Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes hit back-to-back threes to open the half, but Marquette stayed resilient as they have done all year, and evened things up on two occasions after being down six and seven points, respectively.

The Golden Eagles then pushed their lead to eight with just under five minutes to go thanks to a Hayward layup in between two Johnson-Odom threes. Johnson-Odom hit 5-of-7 from downtown and Marquette made all six of their three-point attempts in the second half. They also shot 65 percent in the second half.

Marquette's biggest lead of the game would not last for long as Villanova scored eight straight points in just over a minute to tie the game at 65. Jimmy Butler, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, answered with a basket and a foul on the other end to give Marquette the lead once again. The junior forward responded from a three-point, two-rebound night to give the Golden Eagles a great effort on defense.

"Jimmy's a mismatch nightmare in a lot of ways because his intelligence level allows him to guard a variety of people," Williams said. "His length allows him to guard a variety of people. When he gets eight rebounds we're probably in good shape."

Of their 32 games, Marquette's four-point victory today marks their 15th contest decided by four points or fewer. The "cardiac kids" were able to hold their composure for the second straight game, something Hayward attributes to their frantic practices.

"It's really like a football practice, the way we practice every single day," Hayward said. "And I think that's why when we get in those games and we get into the guts of the game, we're able to say, ‘okay, we've been here before'."

Marquette will take on Georgetown tomorrow in the semifinals. The Hoyas took down Syracuse in the day's first game, 91-84, to advance. This will be the second time Marquette has made it to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. In 2008, they lost 68-61 against Pittsburgh.

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