Late Wednesday night at the Finneran Pavilion, Jay Wright was holding a news conference, after Villanova’s 67-61 victory over Marquette, when he caught the eye of his wife, Patty, who was sitting in the back of the room. Jermaine Samuels, a sophomore forward for the Wildcats and the game’s standout player, was the reason for the shared moment between spouses, and in the middle of answering a question on a different topic, Wright stopped to acknowledge his wife’s wisdom.

“She’s been telling me since September, ‘You’ve got to get ‘Maino’ going. ‘Maino’ is the key,’” he said.

He was Wednesday, and he may have to be again if the Wildcats want to make hay in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Villanova’s senior leaders and top scorers, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, have looked gassed for a couple of weeks now, and they looked it again offensively against Marquette: Booth missing 15 of his 18 shots from the field, Paschall missing seven of his nine. It was understandable. The pair had carried the Wildcats for most of this season. They needed help, a third scorer. They got one in Samuels on Wednesday: a career-high 29 points, a career-high 19 shots.

It would be tempting to say that this wild night for Samuels, who entered Wednesday averaging fewer than 5 points per game this season, came out of nowhere. But the reason that it could be so significant for him and for Villanova is that, in an odd way, the game’s two head coaches, Wright and Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski, conspired to create the conditions for Samuels’ stunning performance.

First, Wojciechowski. Before the game, he said, he and his staff game-planned to neutralize the other members of Villanova’s starting five. Booth and Paschall, obviously. But both Collin Gillespie and Saddiq Bey shoot roughly 37 percent from three-point range, and Gillespie had scored 30 points in a rout of Georgetown earlier this season. If the Golden Eagles were going to dare one Villanova player to beat them, it was going to be Samuels, who had taken just 46 three-pointers and made just 14 ahead of Wednesday’s game. So they left him open, and he beat them, making five of his 13 three-point attempts.

“They put you in very tough positions because of their ability to shoot from the other four positions,” Wojciechowski said. “So you’ve got to pick your poison a little bit. And to his credit – I’ll tip my cap – he did a hell of a job. He really did. He did a hell of a job. He played just a great game. He’s a heck of a player. I just wish we weren’t the only team he hit threes against.”

Wright had a more complex challenge, one that he’d been dealing with all season. Marquette wasn’t the first team that pretty much let Samuels alone, rolled a basketball toward his feet, and said to him, Step right up and make ‘em if you can, kid. “Early in the year, [teams] just weren’t guarding him,” Wright said. “So they’re putting him in the position where you’re open all the time, and we were telling him, ‘Shoot. Shoot.’ It’s a tough position to be in, when they don’t guard you. It seems like it would be easy, but it’s hard.”

Having missed most of last season with a broken hand, Samuels needed time, Wright said, to get familiar and comfortable enough with all the options available to him within Villanova’s offense to handle the mind games that opponents were playing with him. Why are they leaving me open? Is it because they think I can’t shoot? I’ll show them… It’s easy for a player in such a situation to get outside himself, start doing things he shouldn’t, or lose confidence. “Some nights you miss a couple,” Wright said, “and now you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I take another one, and I’m going to lose a game for my team.’ That’s why they do it.”

There were moments even Wednesday that Samuels had opportunities to shoot and didn’t. Hesitate. Pump. Take a dribble. Pass. “The ball comes my way,” Samuels said, “I just try to think about my teammates most of all, before anything else.” But he was still more than assertive enough to go bucket-for-bucket with Marquette’s marvelous point guard, Markus Howard, who had 25 points, and to keep Villanova close until its defense shut down the Golden Eagles in the final minutes, until the Wildcats stopped a three-game losing streak, improved their record to 21-8, and regained their footing before the postseason began. They needed someone else besides their stars. It was long past time. And as it turned out, Patty Wright was right all along. Jermaine Samuels was, and could be, the key.