MILWAUKEE — Collin Gillespie’s accuracy and Villanova’s efficiency assured that the Wildcats wouldn’t join the list of Marquette’s highly-ranked victims.
Gillespie scored 22 points and sank six 3-pointers as No. 5 Villanova routed Marquette 85-68 for its sixth consecutive victory Wednesday night.
“I was getting open shots, and guys were finding me,” said Gillespie, who went 6 of 11 from 3-point range. “Credit to my teammates for finding me. I was just playing off my jump shot.”
Marquette (5-5, 1-3 Big East) was seeking to beat a top-10 team for the third time this season. The Golden Eagles had beaten then-No. 4 Wisconsin 67-65 on Dec. 4 and topped then-No.9 Creighton 89-84 on Dec. 14. Wisconsin is now ninth and Creighton is 13th.
The Golden Eagles instead lost for the third straight time, following setbacks against Seton Hall and Xavier.
“They’re the most skilled team we’ve played,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “All five of their guys that they start and the guys they bring off the bench, they’re basketball players – they’re position-less basketball players and they have the ability to pass, handle and shoot. And they make really good decisions. They take care of the ball, and I think it all starts with Gillespie, his veteran leadership. His poise is exceptional.”
Marquette did manage to keep things interesting until halftime. Villanova (8-1, 3-0) owned a 36-30 lead at the break thanks largely to Gillespie’s shooting before the Wildcats pulled away in the second half.
“I think their length bothered us a little bit early,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “When Collin just keeps moving out deeper and hitting 3’s, length doesn’t bother you out there.”
Villanova took command because it was more effective at protecting the basketball.
The Wildcats entered the night with just 8.3 turnovers per game for the lowest average of any Division I team. Villanova committed just four turnovers Wednesday while forcing 17, leading to an 18-3 discrepancy in points off turnovers.
“I thought we started the game off not really aggressive defensively,” Wright said. “Toward the end of the first half, we made some steals and made some plays.”
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore had 13 points each and Caleb Daniels added 10 for Villanova. Jamal Cain scored 15 to lead Marquette, while D.J. Carton and Theo John added 10 points each.
Marquette stayed close early thanks in part to its use of a zone defense, something the Golden Eagles hadn’t utilized much this season. Villanova needed an 8-0 run late in the first half to take a 36-30 lead at the break.
Cain opened the second half with a 3-pointer that cut Villanova’s lead to 36-33, but the Wildcats answered with a 10-1 spurt that included 3-pointers from Gillespie and Cole Swider.
Villanova was never threatened again and led by as much as 23.
“In the first half, I thought (the zone) served us well,” Wojciechowski said. “In the second half, like a good veteran team, they got more used to it and they weren’t surprised by it. That’s why we didn’t go to it as much in the second half.”
Villanova: The Wildcats have looked overpowering ever since their 81-73 overtime loss to No. 24 Virginia Tech on Nov. 28. They’ve won their last six games by an average margin of 17.8 points. The lone close call during their winning streak has been a 68-64 triumph at No. 10 Texas.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles made far too many mistakes to have a chance at taking down one more top-five team. Marquette shot 7 of 16 from the free-throw line and committed 17 turnovers. Now a team that looked on the verge of cracking the Top 25 after its victory at Creighton last week instead finds itself at .500.
Villanova certainly looked worthy of its ranking Wednesday. Whether the Wildcats can move up likely will depend on whether any teams above them start losing.
Villanova is at No. 22 Xavier on Jan. 2.
Marquette visits Georgetown on Jan. 2.