Marquette Wire

Marquette survives late St. John’s rally to advance in BIG EAST Tourney

Golden Eagles play No. 2 Xavier at 6 p.m. Thursday

Duane+Wilson+was+one+of+five+Golden+Eagles+to+score+in+double+digits+%28Photo+by+Brian+Georgeson%2Fbrian.georgeson%40mu.edu%29
Duane Wilson was one of five Golden Eagles to score in double digits (Photo by Brian Georgeson/brian.georgeson@mu.edu)

Duane Wilson was one of five Golden Eagles to score in double digits (Photo by Brian Georgeson/brian.georgeson@mu.edu)

Duane Wilson was one of five Golden Eagles to score in double digits (Photo by Brian Georgeson/brian.georgeson@mu.edu)

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“Win every day.”

The motto for the Marquette men’s basketball team has never rung more true than it did Wednesday night in an exhausting bout with St. John’s in the First Round of the BIG EAST Tournament.

“Anytime you win a BIG EAST Tournament game, it means a great deal,” head coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the 101-93 victory, immediately dismissing any negative criticism toward his team.

St. John’s entered the game as the undisputed worst team in the conference, ranking last in nearly every statistical category and seeded 10th. The Red Storm, however, had given Marquette fits earlier in the season, keeping both of Marquette’s victories within six points.

In the 9:30 p.m. game at Madison Square Garden in New York, Marquette came out with guns blazing on offense. Haanif Cheatham started 3-for-3 from the field for 10 points, while Duane Wilson matched his shooting effort with eight points and added three steals in the opening 10 minutes. The Golden Eagles shot 63 percent overall from the field in the first half and led 50-38 at the break.

“We started the game overall playing very good offense,” Wojciechowski said. “We were able to build a lead because we were sharing the ball offensively and we were able to get the ball into good spots. We were able to attack and drive to the basket and get to the free throw line.”

Both teams committed a whopping 53 combined fouls. Marquette attempted 43 free throws and converted 38 for an impressive 88 percent rate, which ended up being the difference in the game. St. John’s shot 83 percent but attempted 20 fewer free throws.

“There’s a boatload of fouls called and I guess that’s just the way this tournament’s going to be played but you have to adjust,” Wojciechowski said.

Henry Ellenson was the benefactor of a bulk of the fouls. He was on the line a team-leading 10 times, sinking nine of them. After starting the game with just two points and three turnovers through 15 minutes, Ellenson showed why he was named BIG EAST Freshman of the Year earlier in the day. The Rice Lake native finished with 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. He averaged 19.3 points and 14 rebounds in three games against the Red Storm this season.

Wojciechowski noted that his young team may have been unprepared for “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

“This was an unusual situation for us because 70 percent of our team had never stepped foot in this building and we weren’t able to have a shoot around today,” he said. “They walked in and they were wide-eyed and we get the New York Knicks locker room … The guys were all taking pictures. I’m like ‘fellas, we have a game to play here.’”

“That was me,” Ellenson said with a laugh, admitting to taking photos. “We have a pregame meal and come here and my jersey’s in (Carmelo Anthony)’s locker and that gives me a big smile because he’s my favorite player.”

The lack of warm-up may have plagued Marquette’s lineup down the stretch, as the team withered after leading by 17 with 11 minutes left in the game.

“I didn’t think we had the same level of intensity, and they got by us and got the ball into the paint,” Wojciechowski said. “We fouled a lot, so that took a little bit of our aggressiveness too.”

Luke Fischer was the main culprit for committing  fouls in the paint. With Wojciechowski utilizing a seven-man rotation, Fischer was unable to stay away from hard contact. He fouled out with 10 points, one rebound and three turnovers in just 18 minutes of play.

The Red Storm took an 89-88 lead with 3:15 remaining, but the Golden Eagles quickly took the lead back with an Ellenson three-pointer and clutch free throws by Cheatham. Marquette allowed 93 points to a team that came into the game averaging 67.1 points per game this season, ranked 319th in the country in offensive efficiency.

Marquette’s offense amassed 100 points for the second time this season, which last came Dec. 5 versus Maine. The Golden Eagles’ total of 101 was the most scored by a team in the conference tournament since Seton Hall beat Providence 109-106 in 2010. With the win Marquette advances to the quarterfinals for the 10th consecutive season – every year they’ve played in the BIG EAST.

The Golden Eagles will quickly need to find a better balance of offense and defense before Thursday’s matchup against Xavier, which presents the double-headed monster of James Farr and Jalen Reynolds. The Musketeers, seeded 2nd in the tournament and ranked 5th in the country by the Associated Press, beat the Golden Eagles by eight points in both regular season meetings.

“(We) know who Xavier is,” Wojciechowski said. “They’re a team that is capable of winning a national championship.”

The winner of Thursday’s matchup will face the winner of No. 3 Seton Hall and No. 6 Creighton.

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