Marquette downs Providence 87-66 in Big East Tournament

It was a roller coaster ride for Marquette, but the Golden Eagles downed the Providence Friars 87-66 Tuesday night on the back of senior forward Jimmy Butler’s near triple double: 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

This was Butler’s third straight game with 19 points or more and with double digit free throw attempts – he had 10 against Providence.

“I’ve been much more aggressive on the offensive end,” Butler said. “But I think it comes from the defensive end, that’s where it starts.  It starts everything for me and starts everything for my teammates.”

Marquette started the game on a 17-0 run with junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom accounting for eight of those points – he finished with a team-high 23.  That run helped balloon Marquette’s first half lead to 24.

“We just did a great job mentally preparing for the game,” Johnson-Odom said.  “It’s tough to beat a team twice so we had to do what we do best on both ends of the court.  We did a great job of finding each other, getting paint touches. Jimmy did a great job on the boards and finding people.”

Despite only posting 10 fast break points for the game, running the floor early on opened up offensive opportunities and helped spark the early lead.  Johnson-Odom said Marquette must continue to run the floor well to create offensive opportunities.

“It’s going to be hard for a lot of teams to stop that because we’re so athletic. We have a lot of athletic guards and a lot of guys that can play different positions,” Johnson-Odom said. “It helps us to get up and down the floor with those type of guys.”

But the final 2:41 of the first half had many Marquette fans remembering blown leads against Louisville, 18, and Notre Dame, 12, as Marquette’s 23-point lead dwindled to 13, 46-33, when the halftime buzzer sounded.

Then a 10-4 Providence run to start the second half put the score at 50-43 with 16:55 left in regulation.

At that point coach Buzz Williams said his players easily could have faltered and let Providence continue to push back into the game, but he said his players’ willingness to fight back revealed “outstanding” character.

Over the next 6:56, Marquette went on a 14-6 run and maintained a double digit lead the rest of the way.

Marquette again slowed down Providence senior wing Marshon Brooks, who entered the contest as the country’s second leading scorer at 24.8 points per game.  Brooks scored 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting.

When Marquette beat Providence 86-62 on Feb. 27 Brooks was held to 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting with much of the same defensive scheme in place, Williams said.

Disrupting Brooks’ rhythm was the difference in containing him and most of that work was done by Butler.

“I think that Jimmy’s length changes how Brooks plays, because to a certain extent he’s just as long as Brooks is,” Williams said. “With space and rhythm (Brooks is) as good as any player his size.”

As a reward for the victory, Marquette earns a date with the sixth seeded West Virginia Mountaineers, a team Marquette defeated 79-74 on Jan. 1 at the Bradley Center.

“That thing is going to be a fight,” Butler said. “The toughest team is going to win, they’re just like us in many ways so we have to prepare like we prepare for any other game and go out there and make it a dog fight.”

The biggest question on Marquette fans’ minds is: What does this win do for Marquette’s NCAA Tournament chances?

“I think we need to continue to win,” Williams said. “Hopefully the win it helps, it obviously doesn’t hurt.  Does it mean that we’re in the NCAA Tournament? I don’t know.”