Villanova coach Jay Wright likes to say that the game of basketball is easy when the shots are going in.
In their opening game of the Big East tournament Thursday night, the second-ranked Wildcats made shots after a slow start. They rode a big second half in which they connected on 67.9 percent of their attempts to roll to a 94-70 quarterfinal victory over Marquette at Madison Square Garden.
The Wildcats (28-4), seeded second in the tournament, advanced to a semifinal matchup Friday night against the winner of Thursday's night's second game between No. 3 Seton Hall and No. 6 Butler. The seventh-seeded Golden Eagles (19-13) may have fallen short of an NCAA invitation.
The hot shooting marked a huge turnaround from how Villanova started the game. The Cats shot just 3 of 16 overall from the floor and 2 of 10 from 3-point range in the game's opening 9 minutes, 45 seconds, and scored just 12 points.
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But they exploded after that, hitting 11 of their final 14 attempts to take a 41-23 advantage into the locker room at the half. Villanova then blew the game open in the second half, first with a 12-0 run during which Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth accounted for all of the points that resulted in a 58-43 lead with 13:49 to play.
Then the Wildcats started pouring in 3-pointers. They knocked down five 3s in a row – two by Omari Spellman – and extended their lead to 21, 78-57, on a trey by Mikal Bridges with 8:10 remaining.
At that point in the game, the Cats were 13 of 17 from the field in the half, 8 of 12 from 3-point range. The margin would grow to as many as 26 points.
Bridges led the Wildcats with 25 points and eight rebounds, and Brunson added 21 points. Phil Booth scored 15 points and. Eric Paschall chipped in with 13 points and seven boards. Villanova shot 56.9 percent from the field overall and hit 15 3-point baskets.
Markus Howard led Marquette with 23 points and Andrew Rowsey added 22. They combined for 30 points, including seven 3-point baskets, in the first half as the Golden Eagles stayed close, but they cooled off in the second half.
Howard's trey with 5:45 left in the first half gave the Golden Eagles their last lead of the game at 23-20. Villanova responded with back-to-back four-point possessions. First, Donte DiVincenzo made the first of a two-shot free throw situation and missed the second, but Eric Paschall got the rebound and passed out to DiVincenzo for a 3-pointer.
On the Cats' next possession, Bridges was fouled as he connected on a 3 from the deep right corner and made the free throw, giving 'Nova a 28-23 lead.
Phil Booth hit a driving layup on the Cats' final possession for the seven-point halftime lead.