GOLDEN EAGLES SOAR OVER PIRATES TO SET UP MEETING WITH TOP-SEEDED ‘NOVA
NEW YORK — After splitting a pair of games while earning a narrow win during the regular season against the Seton Hall Pirates, the Marquette Golden Eagles left no doubt in the one that mattered the most during the first round of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
Senior guard Matt Carlino led all scorers with 26 points (while making 8 of 12 3-pointers), sophomore center Luke Fischer scored 14 points, redshirt freshman guard Duane Wilson added 13 points and senior guard Derrick Wilson recorded a game-high 14 assists to lead ninth-seeded Marquette (13-18, 5-14 Big East) to a 78-56 thrashing of eighth-seeded Seton Hall (16-15, 6-13 Big East).
Nearby Brooklyn, N.Y. native, freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead, was the only Pirate to reach double figures with 12 points.
Noting the main differences in Marquette’s third game with Seton Hall, compared to 10-point home loss the Golden Eagles suffered to the Pirates on Jan. 28, which was followed by his team’s hard-fought, three-point win at Seton Hall ten days later, head coach Steve Wojciechowski said, “I think our team is getting better. We haven’t been healthy for the better part of the second half of the Big East season. In the last ten days to two weeks, we’ve had all our guys, and I think we’re improving individually, and I think we’re improving collectively. Obviously, tonight that was about as well as we can play. We had everybody play well once, and that certainly helps.”
Seton Hall missed its initial four shots as Marquette scored the first eight points before freshman forward Angel Delgado (nine points and a team-high seven rebounds) finally got the Pirates on the board with a jumper, 3:41 into the contest.
“I think the first couple shots they hit took a lot of wind out of our sails,” head coach Kevin Willard admitted. “We’ve been getting off to tough starts. We got off to [another] tough start [tonight] and we just didn’t bounce back.”
Still, six straight Seton Hall points got the Pirates within 10-8. But six different Golden Eagles scored during a 22-6 run over a span of 9:59 to push Marquette’s lead to 32-14 with 2:47 left in the opening half.
Desperately trying to stay within reach, Seton Hall scored the next eight points while making its final three shots of the half, after starting just 6-for-20. But junior forward Steve Taylor, Jr. (10 points) banked in a lucky 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Marquette’s edge to 35-22 by halftime.
“That was huge for us,” Carlino said. “We haven’t had that a lot this year, going into halftime with some extra juice to us. So it was a big shot, and I think it really got us going for the second half.”
Fischer added, “I know they had two 3s right before that, and they were crawling back in the game. Steve’s shot going into halftime gave us that little jump start to go into the second half.”
Beginning the second half on a layup from Fischer and Carlino’s fourth 3-pointer in six attempts, the Golden Eagles quickly pushed their lead right back to 18 again.
The Pirates answered with the next five points, but the Golden Eagles responded with the next six points, to trigger a decisive 15-3 spurt that ended with a commanding 55-30 lead on a layup by Duane Wilson with 12:23 remaining. Seton Hall never got closer than within 20 points thereafter.
Three players — Fischer (with 14 points), Duane Wilson 13) and Carlino (12) — were in double figures for Marquette by that point, while the Pirates didn’t have a player with more than six points.
Carlino’s final trey ballooned the margin to 26 points, with 2:17 left, after which Golden Eagles fans optimistically began “We want ‘Nova!” chants. The next point came on a Derrick Wilson free throw, with 1:30 to play, to give Marquette its largest lead, at 78-51.
Despite ending the season just 1-9 and 3-12 after starting 13-3 (with a win over top-seeded Villanova), Willard, who blamed some key injuries for his team’s late season collapse, said, “I’m so proud of these guys. I’m so proud of the way they’ve played all year, the effort they’ve given all year.
“Our tank was a little bit on empty the second half, but so proud of all those kids in that locker room. I think that’s what made it tough for me, [to see] them go through that and kind of end the year that way. You’ve got to give Marquette credit. I thought Carlino and Fischer, who played terrific [in their] last game against DePaul, played great. It’s a tough way to end the year, but I can’t say enough about those guys.”
With a chance to duplicate last year’s tournament run Seton Hall fell well short of what it did in 2014, when it was likewise an eight seed and beat ninth-seeded Butler in the first round of the Big East tournament. The Pirates then posted another one-point win to oust one-seeded Villanova before losing a close semifinal matchup to eventual tournament champion, fourth-seeded Providence.
As their fans wanted, the Golden Eagles will play fourth-ranked Villanova, with a quick turnaround at noon, on Thursday.
After getting swept by Villanova (by 18 points on the road, on Feb. 4, and by 11 points at home, 17 days later), Wojciechowski sounded confident yet wary of the difficulty in trying to advance against one of the nation’s best teams.
“Against a team like Villanova, you have to be great across the board,” he said. “You can’t say we played a great defensive game and the offense let us down. You’ve got to play a great offensive game, you’ve got to play a great defensive game. It’s going to be a great challenge and one we’re looking forward to. Look, there’s no better time than March, period.
“They really have no holes. Their guard play is terrific. They’re experienced. Their guards are, I think, as good as any perimeter in the country. We’re going to have to play a great game on both sides of the ball. We’ll go back and try to get ready to do that.
“They present all sorts of challenges. I think Villanova is capable of winning a national championship. Obviously, they’re extremely well coached, and they have some outstanding players. That’s why you play the games. I think our guys will be ready. Our thoughts are [that] we’re happy to be alive in the Big East Tournament.”
Of course, staying alive for at least another day, at the expense of the tournament’s top seed, would make Marquette even happier.
BLUE JAYS TOP BLUE DEMONS, WILL FACE SECOND-SEEDED GEORGETOWN
NEW YORK — The Creighton Blue Jays remember the tough beatings they took at the hands of the second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas this season. And while they admit the Hoyas might simply be a lot better, the Blue Jays wanted one more shot at taking them down.
To make sure they’d get that chance, Creighton, the 10th and lowest seed in the 2015 Big East tournament, used a big second-half run to upset the seventh-seeded DePaul Blue Demons, 78-63, at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.
Junior guard James Milliken scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, as the Blue Jays (14-18, 5-14 Big East) outscored the Blue Demons (12-20, 6-12 Big East) by a combined 53-26 in the paint (32-18) and at the free throw line, where Creighton was 21-for-30 and DePaul went 8-for-16.
The Blue Demons had four players score in double figures, but none more than the 15 points scored by forward Jamee Crocket, who recorded seven of his points over the final 1:49, after the Blue Jays had already completed their game-deciding run.
Motivated by one more opportunity to make amends for getting swept by second-seeded Georgetown — losing by 15 points on the road on Jan. 3 and getting throttled at home by 27 points while being held to a season low 40 points exactly four weeks later — Creighton made sure it wouldn’t get involved in yet another close contest after having half of its 18 losses this season come by four points or less.
Speaking of his team’s blowout losses to the Hoyas, head coach Greg McDermott said, “We played a good first half in D.C. and then got dominated the second half, and then had as bad a loss as we ever had on our home floor when they came to Omaha. There’s a reason that happened. They’re a heck of a basketball team. They’re long, they’re physical, extremely well-coached and it’s tough with the short prep.
“I think our guys, if there’s one team we’d want to play again, it would be them just because we played so poorly the two times we played against them. Maybe it’s them. Maybe they’re that much better than us, but at least tomorrow we’ll get another opportunity to find out.”
Starting its opening-round game fast, Creighton got out to a 7-3 lead after less than 2½ minutes, but five points by reserve sophomore center Tommy Hamilton IV (11 points) keyed a 9-4 run that gave DePaul its first lead, 12-11, exactly four minutes later.
But Milliken made consecutive 3-pointers, and reserve senior guard Avery Dingman (six points) added one as well during a 9-2 answer that the Blue Jays back ahead, 20-14.
Down by five points, the Blue Demons scored five straight points on a jumper by junior forward Mike Henry (10 points, game-high nine rebounds) and a trey from reserve sophomore guard R.J. Currington (six points) to tie the game at 25-apeice with 6:33 to go in the half.
Reserve sophomore forward Zach Hanson (four points) scored the next four Creighton points before reserve senior guard and Harlem, N.Y. native Devin Brooks (12 points, five assists) added a 3-pointer to cap a 7-2 spurt that gave the Blue Jays a 32-27 advantage.
Another Currington triple tied the game at 33-all, before junior center Geoffrey Groselle (two points) scored his only points of the night on a layup in the final second of the half to put Creighton up by two points and conclude a first half in which each team shot an identical 42.9 percent (12-for-28).
After Creighton extended its lead to five points, DePaul pulled even at 46-all on a jumper by Crockett and a 3-pointer from Hamilton.
From that point, however, it was all Blue Jays, as they went on a 26-10 run over the next 10:20, to lead 72-56, with 3:22 remaining.
Senior guard Austin Chatman scored eight points of his 11 points (including six at the free throw line) to key that stretch.
Getting to the foul line and clamping down defensively are what McDermott said helped most during the spurt.
“I thought it was really critical that we got into the bonus first,” he said. “By doing that, it allowed us to attack and get to the free‑throw some. We made enough threes, and James shot it well enough the first half, but I think they respected that shot a little bit more, and it opened up some driving lanes.
I thought defensively, we were better. We forced a few more turnovers. We made them shoot challenged shots, which is what we were after. We really got hurt by the three‑point shot the first time we played them, and the last two times we’ve done a better job of getting to those shooters.”
In defeat, head coach Oliver Purnell said, “I’m just not satisfied because we got off to a decent start in the Big East. I would have liked to have finished strong. I would have liked to have won more games. We had an opportunity to win a few more games. And obviously, I’d like to be advancing tonight. So I’m not satisfied.”
While DePaul will have to start thinking about next year, Creighton has less than a full day to prepare for Georgetown, as the Blue Jays and Hoyas will meet during the third quarterfinal game at the Garden on Thursday evening, at 7 p.m.
All photos by Jon Wagner at Madison Square Garden, in New York, N.Y., on March 11, 2015