Hilliard scores 26 as 'Nova handles Marquette

Villanova's Darrun Hilliard drives past Marquette's Jake Thomas. Hilliard scored a career-high 26 points, including five three-pointers.          RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Villanova's Darrun Hilliard drives past Marquette's Jake Thomas. Hilliard scored a career-high 26 points, including five three-pointers.          RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 04, 2014

The situation was not a favorable one for No. 8 Villanova early in Sunday's game against Marquette.

James Bell, the team's leading scorer, and Ryan Arcidiacono, its floor leader, were on the bench in foul trouble barely six minutes in, leading to concern about who would provide the points against the Golden Eagles' relentless defense.

Enter junior guard Darrun Hilliard and four members of the Wildcats' bench corps, who picked up the scoring slack and carried the team to a 73-56 Big East Conference win over Marquette in front of 15,026 at the Wells Fargo Center.

Hilliard swished five three-pointers and established a career high with 26 points. Freshman Josh Hart scored 13 to give Villanova a team-record 26th regular-season victory. The previous mark of 25 was reached four times, most recently in 2008-09.

To gain a convincing win over the Golden Eagles (17-12, 9-7 Big East), who had won five of their last six while attempting an uphill climb toward a ninth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, might have been unthinkable without a contribution from Bell.

But the 6-foot-6 swingman, who was averaging 15.7 points and stood six points shy of 1,000 for his career, played 20 minutes and did not score, missing all three of his shots.

"I think I would have said, 'No way,' " Villanova coach Jay Wright said when asked whether he envisioned such a scenario with Bell accompanied by a victory.

However, with Bell and Arcidiacono on the bench, the coach added: "I think our defensive intensity actually picked up. I think I saw a higher level of quickness. Offensively, we were sloppy. That's to be expected, because those guys don't play a lot together. But I think it's going to help us."

Hart, who had gone 11 consecutive games without scoring in double figures, contributed three threes. Although he was credited with four rebounds, he crashed the boards with abandon and kept several offensive possessions alive with tips to teammates.

"Mostly it was the same role," Hart said, "going in with energy, playing defense and rebounding - whatever I could do to help the team."

Kris Jenkins, Dylan Ennis, and Tony Chennault combined for 13 points off the bench. Wright gave a special shout-out to Chennault, the senior from Neumann-Goretti High, for his pass to Hilliard that resulted in a three-pointer and staked the Wildcats to a 36-25 halftime lead.

"Tony got us in that set and ran it at the perfect time, and got the right guy the ball," Wright said. "That was really big for our team. I think that half is something our team is going to build on."

Arcidiacono, who scored eight points in 20 minutes, put Villanova up by 14 with his team's initial basket of the second half - a three-pointer. The Golden Eagles never got closer than 13 from that point.

At 14-2, tying the most wins they have ever had in the Big East, the Wildcats (26-3 overall) own a one-game lead over Creighton, which lost Saturday at Xavier. But Wright said the standings are the furthest thing from his mind.

"Creighton beat us twice," he said. "They had [first place]; it was theirs. We only got it because of what happened in their game, not because of anything we did. So now we've got to just concentrate on Xavier," Thursday night in Cincinnati.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

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