Marquette star Markus Howard pulled out his vintage herky jerky move in the lane then rattled home a running floater in the second half to give the Golden Eagles a comfortable 12-point cushion over No. 14 Villanova. It looked as if they were well on their way to cruising to a bounceback home win over the top team in the Big East standings.
The reigning national champions had other plans.
Villanova stormed all the way back to get within one point in the final seconds, using a stretch in the second half where it made six consecutive 3s. But in a game in which offense reigned supreme and the 3-point shot dictated the flow, it was Marquette's defense that stood strong in the final seconds to stifle Nova's would-be game-winner, giving Marquette a signature 66-65 victory.
It was Marquette's offense, however -- namely Howard's offense -- that put them in position to steal a close win in the first place. Howard scored 38 points on 13 of 24 shooting in the win. He and junior Sacar Anim accounted for the team's final 26 points, which spanned 16 minutes and 30 seconds of game time. It's Howard's sixth 30+ point game of the season -- and third in four games.
And now, the Big East is all sorts of interesting. Villanova and Marquette are in a class of their own at 10-1 and 9-2 within league play, respectively, and neither have a cakewalk moving forward. Nova gets Providence at home Wednesday before a three-game road trip at St. John's, Georgetown and Xavier before a home game to close out the month. Marquette gets DePaul, Butler and Providence before a road trip to Villanova on Feb. 27.
Saturday showed Marquette undeniably has the goods to win the conference and steal Villanova's shine, but it may have to show it again in three weeks to win the league.