NEW YORK — The Marquette men’s basketball team doesn’t care what you think.
Picked to finish near the bottom of the Big East, the Golden Eagles are coming off the first all-time title in school history with the most conference wins.
How about most pundits picking fourth-seeded Connecticut to win the league tournament title at Madison Square Garden, despite United being the first seed and sixth team in the nation ?
Well, the Golden Eagles just battled their way to a tension-filled 70-68 win over the Huskies on Friday and will play in the Big East title game for the first time since joining the conference in 2005.
THE SCORE OF THE BOX:Marquette 70, Connecticut 68
You meant United had no chance in the semi-finals in front of a cheering crowd of 19,812 fans with their two most essential players struggling with serious foul issues? You should know better.
“I mean that in the most respectful way possible,” United head coach Shaka Smart said. “But it felt like a lot of people were giving the game to UConn. And there were comments about the owner of the garden and that sort of thing. And, you know, we said wait a minute, we won this league. So we won’t give in to anyone.
“And you can say that, but then going and doing it is another thing. And you know it’s gonna be hard. You know it’s going to come down to the last minute or even the second of the game. It made. So it was just elation that, you know, our guys were able to go do what we said we were going to do.
Love watching United’s effective attack, but worry about the team’s defense in tournament play? The Golden Eagles won that game by digging deep on the defensive end and making five straight saves to hold the Huskies scoreless for the final 2 minutes and 38 seconds.
MU will face Xavier on Saturday in the league game. The teams split the regular season series.
“I feel like we’re the underdogs almost every game,” MU’s Oso Ighodaro said. “People still don’t believe in us like we believe in ourselves.
“Everyone was picking UConn, we got the win. So we keep that chip on our shoulder every game we play.”
Tyler Kolek has a good start, then David Joplin comes to help
The Golden Eagles are built differently. There were no visible nerves with second-year shooting guard Kam Jones coming out for player introductions crawling on his hands and knees, a TikTok trend that was inspired by Rhianna’s Super Bowl performance. .
Then there was Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek, relentlessly attacking a defense anchored by Connecticut’s 6-foot-9, 245-pound Adama Sanogo and several athletic players.
Kolek scored 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting before being called for an offensive foul with just under three minutes left in the first half in his second personal game. Ighodaro, the other hub of the MU attack, was already on the bench with two fouls.
That meant David Joplin, the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year, had to go from understudy to starring just a few blocks south of Broadway.
The 6-foot-7 Joplin hit 2 three-pointers in the first half and also battled Sanogo and Donovan Clingan 7-2 on blocks on defense.
“You just have to fight,” Joplin said. “When we are dealing with foul issues, I knew I had to fight to position myself there and be smart.
“If they want to post me there, I have to manage the attacking side. They have to come out and keep me. I took the opportunity.”
Olivier-Maxence Prosper leads the defensive effort
The teams went into halftime tied at 38-38 and the game had the makings of a Big East classic.
The second half delivered.
Ighodaro played just six minutes in the second half, picking up his third foul after just 45 seconds and then his fourth with just under 11 minutes to go.
Kolek and Joplin committed their fourth foul a few minutes later. This meant that Smart had to rely on freshmen Chase Ross and Ben Gold in critical time.
“It’s a testament to the depth we have in our team,” Smart said. “At one point I looked outside and we had a bunch of freshmen and sophomores there fighting, fighting, scratching for their lives.
“These guys didn’t blink. They were lost in a fight all night. It was a ton of fun to watch.
MU had to rely on their defense, led Olivier-Maxence Prosper’s lockdown effort on Huskies sniper Jordan Hawkins, who entered the game averaging 16.5 ppg and a 37.7% shooting from three points.
Hawkins finished with points on a 2-for-11 shot.
“When you’re playing against a guy who cuts really well, moves really well, has a really quick trigger and can really shoot the ball, you have to be nervous and alert at all times,” Prosper said. “You really have to anticipate what he does.
“You can’t react to what he does. You have to really try to anticipate, blow up their screens as much as you can and then have a high contest at all times.
Marquette will face Xavier for the championship on Saturday night
Without Kolek and Ighodaro to generate offense, the Golden Eagles got big threes from Ross and Jones, who finished with 14 points.
The biggest blow came from Prosper, whose triple gave United a 70-66 lead with 3:42 to go.
“We’re picking ourselves up,” Prosper said. “No matter the circumstances, big problems, whatever. We have enough guys on this roster who can come in and impact the game and help us win. And that’s what we did today.
“We didn’t watch it because, oh, we don’t have most of our stars. We said, OK, it’s a challenge. We’ll get there with everything we have and then the result will be what the outcome will be.
The Golden Eagles didn’t score again after that bucket.
Ighodaro and Kolek came back with 2:14 to go, but Kolek missed three shots and Ighodaro couldn’t hit a free throw.
But in the last four minutes, the defense of MU gave only two setbacks to Sanogo (19 points and 11 rebounds).
Jones harassed Hawkins by missing the buzzer, sparking a wild celebration.
“These guys, if you cut them, you’ll find championship DNA in them,” Smart said. “It’s exciting because these guys are only in their second year. We have three freshmen playing big minutes. We have another sophomore in Stevie (Mitchell) and three juniors.
“The reason they built this character about them is because of how they feel about each other. This is what allowed us to react in the face of adversity.
Doubt them at your peril.
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