MILWAUKEE — Called on to start, Donte DiVincenzo supplied Villanova with a lift from the opening tip and never let up.
The top-ranked Wildcats avoided another upset in Milwaukee by surviving an injury scare to preseason All-American Jalen Brunson and getting key contributions from DiVincenzo in place of sidelined guard Phil Booth.
Brunson scored 31 points despite leaving briefly with an ankle injury, while DiVincenzo added 23 and a key bucket late in an 85-82 win Sunday over Marquette.
The Wildcats (20-1, 7-1 Big East) turned away surge after surge from Marquette (13-8, 4-5) in front of a rowdy crowd at the Bradley Center.
It was a year ago that Marquette upset a then-No. 1 Villanova team in another down-to-the-wire thriller .
The Wildcats dodged another takedown despite some sloppy stretches of play.
“We found out what it is to play 40 minutes of Villanova basketball, not have another team play that hard, harder than us for 40 minutes,” DiVincenzo said.
Mikal Bridges beat DiVincenzo to an offensive rebound off a missed 3 but fed his teammate under the hoop for a layup with 15 seconds to go and a five-point lead for Villanova. It capped a critical swing that began after Collin Gillespie stripped a driving Sacar Anim under the bucket at the other end for a steal with 49 seconds remaining.
“In the first half, we couldn’t stop anything,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Second half, we stopped them a little bit and that was the difference.”
Andrew Rowsey led Marquette with 27 points, including a deep 3 from the wing that pulled the Golden Eagles to 83-80 with 1:30 left.
They couldn’t get any closer and repeat last season’s heroics.
“I thought our guys gave a winning effort even if we didn’t win,” coach Steve Wojciechowski said.
Foul trouble plagued Marquette for much of the afternoon, with Big East-leading scorer Markus Howard (13 points) picking up his fourth foul with about 13 minutes left.
“We were trying to do the same thing to them,” Rowsey said about playing aggressively in the backcourt to draw fouls. “It was both of us going against each other, trying to playing a game of chess, you would say.”
Villanova went up by three possessions several times in the second half. The Golden Eagles still managed to stay in the game through the end because of sloppy play or rushed empty possessions by Villanova.
Brunson went to the bench briefly in the second half after hurting his left ankle while falling to the floor in the paint. He scored 15 in the first half, matching his output for the entire game against Providence, and closed a 7-0 run over the final 1:21 by faking defender Jamal Cain and hitting a jumper for a 49-44 lead at the half.
Villanova: Booth broke his right hand late in the 89-69 win Tuesday over Providence. The junior and team’s fourth-leading scorer (11.6 points) is out indefinitely after starting the season’s first 20 games. DiVincenzo replaced Booth in his second start of the season.
Marquette: The 6-foot-11 Froling made his first start of the year at center after the transfer from SMU gained eligibility at midseason. He had 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting. … Rowsey picked up his third foul of the game with 1:21 in the first half. … Howard did not score in the second half, finishing 5 of 18 from the field and 3 of 8 from the 3-point line.
Brunson turned his left ankle about midway through the second half and asked to come out of the game. He came back 2 minutes later, but not before some nervous moments as he first walked off the floor. Wright said Brunson apologized to him after the game.
“When it happened I thought I was in trouble,” Brunson told Wright.
Marquette was called for 22 fouls, compared with 14 for Villanova, and the Golden Eagles’ student section voiced its displeasure with the officials for the disparity numerous times.
Wojciechowski called Brunson one of the country’s best guards but stuck up for his backcourt, too, particularly Howard. He went to the foul line once, missing his only attempt.
“I have to do a much better job of figuring out how to put him into possessions to be fouled, because he’s not ever shooting a free throw,” Wojciechowski said. Howard was averaging 22.1 points coming into the afternoon.
Villanova: Hosts Creighton on Thursday.
Marquette: Hosts Butler on Wednesday.