In a practical sense, Villanova probably should have let head coach Jay Wright relax a bit more as it secured his 400th career victory on the Main Line.
There’s no doubt that a win that put Wright just 13 short of tying the school’s all-time record of 413 set by Al Severance was significant, and that many wins are bound to have produced some previous high levels of acid indigestion.
Still, Wright had to again be troubled that he could not depend on his team’s defense to put away a game that should not have come down to the final minute.
After struggling for the last few games on the defensive end, Nova still did not have the type of performance Wright has been accustomed to watching most of his teams play since taking over in 2001, but stops at the right moments are the most important thing.
Late in the game, the third-ranked Wildcats made enough critical plays to hold off Marquette and come away with a 100-90 win on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“We got a lead and then they made a run at us,” said Wright, adding that the 400th victory is something to reflect back on later. “We were playing defense for like spurts.
“We get a lead and then we would back off defensively, and that’s what we’ve got to be better at.”
Jalen Brunson scored 27 with eight assists while Eric Paschall matched his career-high with 19 points as Villanova (14-1, 2-1 Big East) rebounded from its first loss of the season.
A win is always the desired result, but the way Villanova played down the stretch continued a season-long trend that bit the Cats in a 101-93 loss at Butler and could do so again if the Wildcats don’t find a way to shore things up on defense.
Marquette (11-5, 2-2) was down, 82-67, with about 4 ½ minutes remaining but scrambled back to trail by just five with 44 seconds remaining.
Brunson, however, sank seven clutch free throws in the final 52 seconds put away the win.
“A point guard like Jay controls the game, so if you’ve got a lead you can run some clock,” Wright said. “He gets the ball in his hand and you’ve got that guy. That’s valuable when you are holding a lead.”
The odd thing was that Villanova had done a good job of playing defense for about 30 minutes.
The Golden Eagles had come into the game ranked fourth in the Big East in scoring at 86.5 points but had just 59 points with a little more than nine minutes left on the clock.
Then things just started happening.
Markus Howard had 26 of his game-high 37 points in the second half.
“At the end, we were just trying not to foul,” Wright said. “You’re not really trying to stop them. You just don’t want to foul them. That’s why I’m saying it wasn’t that bad.
“It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t that bad.”
It was also 400 wins at Villanova.