This was Marquette’s best chance to reach their first Big East Championship game in school history. They had won only one Big East Regular Season title before this – and they got shocked by Notre Dame in the first round of the conference tournament. So if there was any time to win the chance to play on Saturday, now was the time.
These two schools had never met in the Big East Tournament in their entire history up until this point. UConn held a slim 8-7 advantage in their all-time series – with the Huskies had winning five of their last six against the Golden Eagles. This year, they split their regular season series as Marquette won in Milwaukee 82-76 followed by a UConn win in Hartford by a 87-72 scoreline.
Going into the game – each side knew who the other would be looking to for a big performance: the Golden Eagles would be turn to Rhode Island junior Tyler Kolek while the Huskies expected big things out of Maryland sophomore Jordan Hawkins.
Kolek had come into the Mecca of College Basketball on a ten game double-digit points streak and extended that with 19 more points in overtime on Thursday against St. John’s in overtime. Meanwhile Hawkins – whose name will surely be heard in the first round of this summer’s NBA Draft – put up 19 as well in a close game against rivals Providence.
Marquette held on as UConn’s defense fell apart to reach the school’s first Big East title game
Marquette started the scoring off after UConn’s Andre Jackson missed two free throws and forward Oso Ighodaro punctuated the mistake an emphatic dunk. The Golden Eagles came out with a tight man-to-man defense and a trap in the paint that rattled the Huskies at first, but was quickly resolved with a Hawkins 3-pointer to open the scoring for UConn.
Thanks to that lightning-fast defense, and efficient scoring, Marquette went up quick. The Huskies didn’t take the lead back until the 11:53 mark of the first half with a 3-pointer from Virginia Tech transfer Naheim Alleyne. Kolek responded two possessions later, breaking a dry spell of nearly three minutes.
At the media timeout at 7:10, it was a three point game at 24-21. To that point, both teams were shooting around 50 percent (UConn 50, Marquette 47.1) – however the Huskies had the distinct advantage beyond the arc, going 2-4 compared to the Golden Eagles’ 1-6.
Kam Jones must have ignored that, tying it up from deep just before six minutes remained in the half. UConn’s transfer from the University of San Diego, guard Joey Calcaterra, responded in kind.
A controversial foul call moments later had UConn head coach Dan Hurley apoplectic, nearly stumbling to the ground in disbelief. He would stare up at the Garden’s video board, hands on his hips, looking bewildered.
As the second half got underway, the Golden Eagles scored 18 points in the first four minutes
As the clock wound down, freshman forward Alex Karaban hit a clutch baseline shot-clock-beating 3-pointer to tie the game at 38-38 before the half. At the half’s end, the Huskies had seen their shooting advantage diminish as Marquette started hitting their shots.
From the start of the second half, it was all Marquette. They put up 18 points within the first 3:15 to overwhelm Connecticut.
There were glimmers of hope for the Huskies. Karaban drained a three and the UConn side of the crowd got back into it. But still, the lead for Marquette remained. At 12:31 OMax Prosper hit two free throws to make it an eight point game. Back-and-forth we went.
A missed three-pointer by Alleyne was rebounded under the basket by Newton – who put it in for two points. Alleyne put up another bucket off a rebound and here we were at 11:22 and UConn had brought it back to within four.
Marquette called a timeout. Hurley ran out onto the floor, pumping the crowd up with authority. For the first time all night, that old chant reverberated around the arena: U-C-O-N-N, UConn, UConn, UConn.
Marquette’s Tyler Kolek was a co-leader on the team with 17 points and six assists on the night
Coming out of that timeout, UConn freshman Donovan Clingan was fouled by Ighodaro – the Marquette man’s fourth of the night. He had to sit as the 7-foot-2 center cut the deficit to three.
And then it happened. Marquette hit a layup, but Calcaterra knocked down a clutch three. The game was tied at 60. Chaos gripped the Garden for the first time all night.
But what Huskies fans wouldn’t realize is that would be the final 3-pointer UConn would make all night. They attempted six more – Calcaterra tried four of those six – but they couldn’t hit a single one. To the Huskies credit, most of those were good looks. They just couldn’t fall.
David Joplin – who had sank multiple clutch shots and ended with 17 points off the bench – was sat after his fourth foul of the night. That forced Marquette coach Shaka Smart to go to his depth. Jones did his part, knocking down a three to go back up 63-60 with 7:54 to go. A foul at the other end saw two free throws from Clingan to make it a one-point game.
A minute went by before someone scored again when UConn made it 67-66. A Prosper three made it 70-66. Sanogo’s put back made it 70-68. Deafening noise filled the arena. A media timeout at 2:14 ruined the mood – but didn’t stop the energy.
David Joplin (23) put up 17 points off the bench, but got into foul trouble late in the game
Joey Calcaterra (3) made the last 3-pointer for UConn at the 9:25 mark of the second half
At 1:53, Andre Jackson fouled out. The Huskies’ utility man had been sparkless throughout the game – shooting 1-2 on the night. Ighodaro missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Calcaterra missed a three. We went under a minute. 70-68 Marquette. Kolek missed a shot. 48.8 seconds left when Hurley called timeout.
Calcaterra tried for a three. He missed. UConn hadn’t hit a 3-pointer since the 9:25 mark. Up the court came Kolek. At his hands, he could seal the deal.
It was a miss. Rebound Connecticut. Hurley had a timeout, but he didn’t use it. Up the floor they went.
Newton continued to dribble hurriedly after struggling with getting plays started all night. Hand-off to Hawkins who had been held to five points up to that moment. With a desperation heave, the ball sailed toward the basket as the buzzer sounded.
Marquette had done it. They held on. UConn didn’t score a single point within the final two minutes of the contest. As a result, it’s the Golden Eagles that are going to the Big East Championship game for the first time in school history.
After the game, Hurley addressed the lack of points in a question asked by DailyMail.com.
‘I thought we got some great looks at 3s there, down two, in transition. Couple 3s to get us the lead,’ Hurley said. ‘You know, we just — this time of year, obviously, our defense early in the second half let us down, but we toughened up a lot.’
He later added, ‘I’ll speak for where we are. Just to be back in the semis for the third straight year and, I mean, three pretty excruciating losses. We were hell-bent on playing for a championship tomorrow. That was — I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were going to, with all due respect to Marquette, we know how outstanding they are. They’ve got a chance to be a Final Four team this year or better.’
Hawkins’ last-ditch effort to win the game for Connecticut fell short, with Marquette victorious
UConn coach Dan Hurley said the Huskies expected to be in the championship game Saturday
Calcaterra told DailyMail.com that the team’s mentality was strong enough to rebound from the loss, and that, ‘we’ll be ready when the time comes’ in the NCAA tournament – where the Huskies are expected to be a top-four seed.
Hawkins said that there wasn’t a particular defensive adjustment that led to their poor second half performance. ‘We did this to ourselves,’ he said, adding that they ‘just gotta keep our heads up during tournament time.’
Smart addressed the UConn fans in the crowd who were foolish enough to think the result of this game was a foregone conclusion.
‘I want to say this in the most respectful way possible, but it felt like a lot of people were giving UConn the game coming in,’ Smart said, triumphant.
‘And there was comments made about who owns the Garden and that kind of stuff. And, you know, we said wait a minute, we won this league. So we’re not taking a back seat to anybody.’
Eagles Euphoria means Heartbreak for the Huskies. It’s Marquette to the championship game
Xavier 82, Creighton 60
The Souley Boum Fantastic Fireworks Show continued to illuminate Madison Square Garden for the Xavier Musketeers.
The elite grad student guard from UTEP (via Oakland Tech) proved why he was a first-team All-Big East selection with a 3-point performance that lit up the first half.
Boum knocked down three shots from behind the arc and went 4-4 on free throws to lead everyone on the floor with 13 points in the first half.
It’s not like Creighton couldn’t solve their problems – its just that this turned into a classic Big East game from the jump: lots of rebounds (24 for Xavier in the first half, 15 for Creighton).
But Boum wasn’t the only one on the Musketeers who was capable of scoring. Desmond Claude shot 4-7 and had nine points off the bench while fellow guard Colby Jones grabbed eight points and five rebounds on 4-6 shooting.
The Xavier Musketeers blew out the Creighton Blue Jays to make their second Big East final
Grad transfer guard Souley Boum shone bright for the Musketeers – putting up 23 points
As for the Blue Jays of Creighton, the closest they got to double-digit points in the first half was from 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner – who was a perfect 3-3 from the field and 3-4 from the line to put up nine points in the first half.
Teammates Trey Alexander, Baylor Scheierman, and Arthur Kaluma were the only others to put points on the board. Everyone else who touched the floor for a roughly combined 35 minutes shot a total of 0-7.
The second half began with both teams shooting about 1-for-3 at the 15:39 timeout. Musketeers senior guard Adam Kunkel began the second half 2-for-2, punctuated by a beautiful double-clutched finger-roll layup to go up 46-31.
Things were not clicking for Creighton. By the 12:56 mark, they had shot 4-13. A perfect encapsulation of their struggles was when guard Shereef Mitchell poked the ball free for a what should have been an easy fast-break score. He over-shot the basket with contention from Cesare Edwards – who picked up an easy rebound with Boum hitting a jumper on the ensuing possession.
At the 11:30 mark, Xavier had extended their lead to 18 points. For a team that was normally out-sized in the paint, they had been thoroughly out-rebounding Creighton by a 35-23 margin just past the 9:00 mark. Not only that, but they were shooting 60 percent from the floor around the same time.
While Ryan Kalkbrenner led the way for the Blue Jays, it wasn’t enough to stop the Muskies
On the glass, Xavier out-rebounded Creighton 45-28 in an impressive effort on the glass
It became a slog. 7-foot center Jack Nunge drained a three that got those who came from Cincinnati pumped up. Even as the Garden began to thin out as people left to beat an impending winter storm, the Xavier fans sounded their delight.
This was not expected from this Creighton team. They’re a much better defense than what they displayed. Going into the night, advanced analytics site kenpom.com ranked them 14 in the country for adjusted defensive efficiency.
As time dipped under five minutes, all that Creighton could do is hope they didn’t get blown out enough.
Head coach Sean Miller brought on the bench players at the 1:14 mark with the Muskies up 22. Xavier is off to the Big East title game for the second time in their history.
Kalkbrenner ended his night shooting a perfect 7-7 for 18 points. Scheierman and Alexander both hit double-digits. But the other locker room had four double-digit scorers, including Boum who finished with 23 points, six assists, and five rebounds.
That final rebounding stat told a horror story. In the conference, Creighton is the fourth-best team on the glass while Xavier is just .3 boards-per-game behind them. Tonight, Xavier out-rebounded Creighton 45-28.