NEW YORK -- At first, it seemed the game clock was moving faster than it should have been for Villanova. Then, less than a second was taking forever.
An improvised play led to a last-second layup by Dwayne Anderson that fell in as the buzzer sounded and gave the Wildcats (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) a 76-75 victory over No. 21 Marquette on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.
Reggie Redding had the ball near the top of the key for Villanova with less than 10 seconds left and the Wildcats were down one. He was trying to find Scottie Reynolds but Marquette's defense wasn't allowing that to happen and since the Wildcats didn't have a timeout, it was all up to him.
"I knew time was running down so I said, 'Hey, I've got to make a play," Redding said. "I drove and Dwayne's man stepped up on me. Dwayne made a great second cut and I hit him with a pass and he finished it for us.
"I felt like it was up there 20 seconds. It hit every part of the rim. I'm just saying, 'Please drop, please drop."
The sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden erupted when the ball finally fell through for Anderson's only field goal of the game. The Marquette players wandered around the court with stunned looks on their faces while the officials reviewed the tape to make sure the ball left Anderson's hand before the buzzer.
"We tried to attack, tried to get the ball to Scottie but they face guarded him," Anderson, a senior forward who returned from a stress reaction in his left foot to average 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in conference games. "Reggie is a playmaker. It's what he does.
"It definitely means a lot. I've been through a lot these four years, the ups and downs, the highs and lows. ... We're not quite there, we're getting close to it."
The fourth-seeded Wildcats (26-6) are one step closer to possibly adding to their only Big East title (1995) and will play top-seeded and fifth-ranked Louisville in the semifinals on Friday.
"We've been on the other side of that in this tournament," Villanova's Jay Wright, the Big East coach of the year, said of the buzzer-beater, "and this side feels great."
The Wildcats led by 17 points in the first half, but Marquette took its first lead since the game's early minutes on a 3-pointer by Lazar Hayward that made it 75-74 with 1:40 to play.
Both teams had two empty possessions after that with Jerel McNeal of the Golden Eagles (24-9) missing on a drive with 14 seconds to play. Marquette started that possession with 40 seconds on the game clock and a full 35 on the shot clock.
"We wanted to make sure we took it as low on the shot clock as we could," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "That was our intention, to get something going toward the basket."
The fifth-seeded Golden Eagles then played almost as much defense as they needed to advance to the semifinals for the second straight year.
"I thought we guarded the ball and then we call it helped uphill and stepped uphill to help penetration and they went behind us."
Reynolds had 21 points and eight rebounds Corey Stokes added 20 points for Villanova.
Without James, Marquette lost four straight games, all to ranked teams, until beating St. John's 74-45 in the second round. This loss was like the others, to a ranked team and close.
"We're supposed to be getting ready to play Louisville right now," Marquette's Wesley Matthews said. "We just have to learn from it, keep fighting, get ready and get this taste out of our mouth now, because it's going to be the same feeling if we play another 20 minutes like we did the first half."
The Wildcats led 45-28 with a minute left in the half and were up 47-31 at the break as the Golden Eagles shot 20.8 percent (5-for-24) with McNeal and Matthews, the other guards in the senior trio with James, a combined 2-for-18 from the field.
But McNeal, Matthews and Maurice Acker, James' replacement at the point, all started scoring and the Golden Eagles closed within 62-56 with 9:47 left on Acker's 3-pointer.
Acker hit a 3 with 2:56 left to make it a one-point game and Butler made it 72-all with a free throw 43 seconds later.
Reynolds scored to give Villanova the lead again until Hayward's 3 with 1:40 left.
McNeal had 15 points for Marquette, while Hayward had 13 points and 11 rebounds. Acker added a season-high 12 points and Matthews had 11 points and 10 rebounds.