Men’s basketball shocks No. 10 Illinois in Gavitt Games

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Photo by Collin Nawrocki

Marquette men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart celebrates with fans during his team’s 67-66 win over No. 10 Illinois Nov. 15.

Despite trailing by 12 with just over ten minutes left in the game, the Marquette men’s basketball team secured its first signature win in the Shaka Smart Era defeating the No. 10 Illinois Fighting Illini 67-66 Monday night at Fiserv Forum.

“The theme of this game was audacity,” Smart said. “Not a lot of people outside our locker room gave us much of a chance to win this game playing against a top-1o team, but the guys believed and stayed together.”

Marquette forced a total of 26 turnovers on the night to help propel the upset victory over the Illini who were without their star forward Kofi Cockburn, who was serving the last of his three-game suspension.

Despite being without their star player, Illinois head coach Brad Underwood had no excuses on his team’s performance.

“Out of character is the only way to describe it,” Underwood said. “Really alarming the amount of turnovers and the lack of ball movement. Give Shaka and his kids a ton of credit.”

Marquette ended the game on a 10-1 run in the last 5:33 of the game, with the last points coming off a steal from redshirt first-year guard Tyler Kolek with just 18 seconds left in the game to give the Golden Eagles a 67-66 lead. Kolek finished the night with 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I just tried to make a play, but that wasn’t the play that won us the game,” Kolek said. “We were down eight with five minutes left and we just fought, I’m so proud of these guys. “We’ve been so close with each other and that’s all that really matters in a game like this, just caring about the guy next to you.”

The Illini would play the remaining seconds out without calling a timeout. It was here when redshirt first-year Andre Curbelo would then commit his seventh turnover of the night, allowing Marquette to run the clock out and celebrate the upset victory.

Graduate student guard Darryl Morsell led the Golden Eagles in scoring for the third-straight game, as the veteran guard scored 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the field which included 3-for-4 from the 3-point line.

After the game, Morsell reiterated the theme of the week inside the locker room of “audacity.”

“I just liked how we had the audacity to stay confident and find a way to get that win today,” Morsell said. “I knew coming out of the second half they were going to make a run, it was just about how we responded to it and I thought we responded very well.”

The Golden Eagles struggled shooting from the field from the start as the team went just 10-for-29 (34.5%) in the first half, but it was their defense that kept them in game for the full 40 minutes.

Despite their cold shooting performance in the first 20 minutes, Marquette forced 15 turnovers in the first half to give them a 28-27 lead at halftime.

Redshirt first-year forward Justin Lewis scored 17 points for the third-straight game for Marquette as he went 5-for-10 from the field and shot 7-for-8 from the free throw line.

The Illini were a force on the boards throughout the game as they out-rebounded the Golden Eagles 50-30 on the night. Despite the height advantage for the Illini, Illinois only outscored Marquette 26-24 in the paint.

Senior guard Trent Frazier had a game-high 23 points for Illinois as he went 7-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from the 3-point line.

Redshirt sophomore ¬†Coleman Hawkins complemented Frazier’s game as he had 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting and eight rebounds for the Illini.

Overall, both teams shot significantly better in the second half, as the Illini went 14-for-32 from the field and 6-for-11 from the 3-point line.

As a team, the Golden Eagles would shoot 12-for-25 (48%) from the field in the second half.

Graduate transfer student Kur Kuath came up huge for the Golden Eagles on the defensive end late in the game as the forward had a game-high five blocks and four rebounds on the night.

“Having a guy like Kur on the back end cleaning up everything is phenomenal, he played great in the second half,” Morsell said. “Being a veteran guy he just has to keep playing with confidence so it was just great to see him play that way today.”

Marquette struggled from the free-throw line late in the game, as the Golden Eagles shot a season-low 18-for-31 (58.1%) from the charity stripe, but were able to overcome these setbacks with their defense down the stretch.

Marquette (3-0) will now travel to Charleston, South Carolina, Nov. 18 to take on Ole Miss in the Shriner’s Childrens Charleston Classic. Thursday’s contest is set for 6 p.m. Central Standard Time.

“I’m just grateful to be here at Marquette and to have the opportunity to coach these guys,” Smart said. “This is just the beginning for us, there’s going to be twists and turns and up and downs, but I think this is a really good step for us and our guys to understand we can win a game down double figures against a good team.”

This article was written by Sam Arco. He can be reached at samuel.aroc@marquette.edu or on Twitter @SamArcoMU.