Golden Eagles brace for the Red Storm

Photo courtesy of Marquette Images

Marquette beat St. John's 63-61 in overtime on Feb. 24 last year in the only meeting between the two teams. Photo courtesy of Marquette Images.

The Marquette Golden Eagles (15-10, 6-6) welcome a red-hot St. John’s team to the Bradley Center tonight in a game that quickly rose from preseason obscurity to broadcast-worthiness on ESPNU.

The Golden Eagles have had their ups and downs over the past 13 days. They sandwiched two road losses to then-No. 12/12 Villanova, 75-70 and then-No. 11/11 Georgetown, 69-60, around a sloppy, yet crucial 59-58 win over South Florida.

Senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom averaged 14 points over the three-game road stretch. Against the Hoyas, he started hot, shooting 3-of-6 in the first half, but tapered off in the second half, shooting 4-of-11.

Returning from a three-game road trip to a home game against St. John’s might’ve looked refreshing early in the season, but it appears the Golden Eagles may be walking into a bigger battle than once anticipated.

After non-conference losses earlier this season to St. Mary’s College, St. Bonaventure and Fordham, many would’ve considered St. John’s out of the mix in a very deep and tough Big East.

Instead, the Red Storm (15-9, 7-5 Big East) have swept through the conference and are in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Big East. St. John’s has downed the perennial powerhouses, knocking off Georgetown on Jan. 3, Notre Dame on Jan. 16, Duke on Jan. 30 and Connecticut on Feb. 10.

“St. John’s has been playing as well as anybody else in the country, beating some top teams,” Johnson-Odom said. “I think it’s going to be very important for us to be very engaged in what we do as far as learning their personnel and studying them as a team.”

With such impressive wins on their resume, the question becomes whether the Red Storm that touches down in Milwaukee tonight will be the minor turbulence that came up short against UCLA in a 66-59 loss on Feb. 5 or the category five hurricane that ravaged the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils, 93-78.

Those factors aside, however, there is one area that has proven to be both a lifesaver and a dagger for Marquette this season: free throws.

The last time Marquette had a quality win at home against the Syracuse Orange on Jan. 29, coach Buzz Williams cited the team’s 24 made free throws as the key factor in the victory.

Against South Florida, the Golden Eagles struggled to put away the Bulls because of eight consecutive missed free throws in the closing seconds. At Georgetown, Marquette again struggled at the line shooting only 66.7 percent (18-of-27).

Williams knows this game is a must win and hopes that his team will finally pull out a win in a close game.

“You have to win in order to be part of any discussion,” Williams said, “I think our average margin of defeat is 4.4 points and that’s a hard life to live.”

The game will also reunite two former teammates as St. John’s leading scorer, senior guard Dwight Hardy, will return to Milwaukee where he played with Marquette senior guard Dwight Buycks at Indian Hills Community College.

“We’ve talked to each other a lot up to this point,” Buycks said. “It’ll be fun to see us back together on the court again and to bring back the old times.”