Marquette coach Buzz Williams admitted that his team was all flummoxed in the final minute.
"We were a little out of sorts," he said. "We were concerned that the scoreboard malfunctioned."
Only kidding, and no offense to the equipment at Madison Square Garden. It was just his typically unusual way of saying his team isn't used to being up by four - which it was, 80-76, at the end of a tense Big East Tournament quarterfinal against Villanova.
The spread was only a technicality. It really was a typically hair's breadth Marquette game and, the way things have gone lately, a typical Marquette result.
If there were a Top 10 ranking for playing close ones, the Golden Eagles would have been right up there all season, the way Villanova has been in the real national poll.
Twelve of Marquette's 20 Big East games this season have been decided by three or fewer points. That included a pair of two-point losses to Villanova, which had been No. 2 in the country. No wonder Marquette's players don't get flustered when the score is 70-70 and only 1:49 remains.
"I think our guys are more calm than our fans in these games, because that's all we've been doing," said Williams, whose team is 22-10, preparing for a semifinal against Georgetown Friday night and on its way to the NCAA Tournament.
Marquette didn't buckle Thursday when its shots didn't fall (34.5 percent in the first half) or when Villanova (24-7) went up by seven nearly seven minutes into the second half.
"They just continued to answer every play, every situation," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "Every little adjustment we made, they had an answer for."
The strongest answer occurred with 1:49 left when senior forward Lazar Hayward, Marquette's top player, took a three-pointer that settled in the net - the sixth three-pointer in six tries for his team after halftime.
"It was a rhythm shot," Hayward said. "Coach never gets mad if we shoot rhythm threes."
His team never was tied after that. Villanova came within two on Antonio Peña's basket with four seconds left, but Hayward iced it with two foul shots with 3.2 seconds remaining. That's Marquette's time.
"I know in every single practice, Coach really gears it up and it's wild," Hayward said after scoring 20 points, second on his team to Darius Johnson-Odom's 24. "It's really like a football practice. I think that's why when we get into the guts of a game, we're all calm because we do that every single day."
What makes it like football?
"He's an emotional coach," Hayward said. "You see he's always revved up and he's running around. He's saying words I can't say here. We know the only chance we have to win is to play extremely frantic."
Villanova is not frantic about having lost five of seven. Wright said things aren't always what they seem, adding that when the Wildcats were 20-1, he told his players, "Guys, this is a little bit of fool's gold right here." And he said he believes Villanova, led by Corey Stokes' 22 yesterday, actually is improving now.
But nobody in the Big East appears hotter than Marquette, which has won six of seven and has a knack of growing better toward the end.