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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Men’s basketball wins first outright Big East regular season championship with win over Butler

(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

On Saturday, Shaka Smart led No. 6 Marquette to claiming its first share of the Big East regular season title in over a decade.

Three days later, Smart led the Golden Eagles (24-6, 16-3 Big East) to their first ever outright regular season championship in the program’s 107-year-old history as they took down Butler (14-16, 6-13).

“It feels great. These guys have been committed to each other, played for each other, pulling for each other and staying connected,” Smart said to Fox Sports 1’s Stephen Bardo postgame. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming in here but this was one of our best defensive games of the year. I give these guys a lot of credit for staying with the process and it feels good to say Marquette is Big East champions.”

It’s also the first ever outright regular season championship for Smart as a head coach.

“I’m just grateful,” Smart said. “Grateful to be part of it and grateful to be these guys coach. It’s still February so we are not done. We got a lot of work ahead of us and we can continue to get better. I’m just really really grateful to be part of Marquette and be at a place that has such a passion for basketball.”

The Golden Eagles have now locked in the No.1 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament in New York City. Marquette will face the winner of No. 8 St. John’s and No. 9 Butler Thursday at 12 p.m. CST.

Statistical leaders

Junior guard Tyler Kolek led Marquette with 21 points and 10 assists, recording back-to-back double-doubles.

“To me, he’s the MVP of the Big East. He makes that team go,” Butler head coach Thad Matta said. “He’s such an intelligent basketball player. He’s got a great pulse on that team. It looks like they really feed off him, and he embraces that leadership.”

Junior forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper chipped in 14 points and five rebounds. Junior forward Oso Ighodaro added 12 points, six rebounds, three blocks and a steal.

Guard Jaden Taylor led all Bulldogs scorers with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting from the field while Jaden Taylor had a team-high eight rebounds.

Bringing home the hardware 

The Golden Eagles add their fifth regular season title banner to the rafters since they stopped competing as an independent school in 1989.

But perhaps this one stands by itself out of the other four given the run this Marquette team has made this year.

Picked to finish ninth in the conference, Marquette entered the season with the fourth-least experienced power conference team in the country according to KenPom and least experienced in the Big East.

Marquette then took down then-No. 6 Baylor Nov. 29, its highest ranked win under Smart. Since Jan. 1, the Golden Eagles have gone 12-2, which included three Quad 1 ranked wins.

Now, the Golden Eagles become the lowest Big East preseason picked team to claim the league regular season title.

“It feels great,” sophomore guard Stevie Mitchell told ESPN Milwaukee broadcasters Steve “The Homer” True and Tony Smith in a post-game radio interview. “It’s a testament to all the hard work we’ve put in together, the relationships we have with each other and just our culture.

“(By) just living that, it shows what you can do when you live the right way, play the right way and have the relationships with the right guys.”

With the win, Marquette’s 16 league victories are the most in program history dating back to the start of conference affiliation in 1989-90.

The focus now shifts towards next week’s Big East postseason awards. Smart is the clear cut choice for coach of the year in the conference. Kolek, who has finished with 43 points and 24 assists in the last two games, could receive player of the year in the conference honors.

≥READ MORE: Tyler Kolek is more than a facilitator on one of the nation’s top teams 

Finding groove late

It was a cold start for both teams from the floor in the first half.

After MU led 8-6 early on, both teams went into a four minute scoreless drought, combining 0-for-16 from the field in that stretch.

Butler, who went on an eight minute scoreless drought, made just eight shots from the field in the entire first half.

The Golden Eagles found themselves offensively in the final minutes of the half after Kolek hit a 3-pointer to go up 21-13 at the 6:29 mark.

“Stayed in it by having a defensive identity and focusing on the defensive end,” Mitchell said.

Marquette ended the half on a 17-10 run to take a 36-22 lead into the break.

≥READ MORE: Jones becomes “alpha” and leading scorer on nation’s Top 10 team

Defensive night 

Marquette’s defensive presence was in full force Tuesday.

The Golden Eagles held the Bulldogs to shooting 39.2% from the field and forced 13 turnovers on the night.

Sophomore forward David Joplin led all Marquette defenders with a career-high six steals.

≥READ MORE: Joplin’s pattern of success traces back to high school days at Brookfield Central

Next up: 

Marquette rounds out the regular season Saturday against St. John’s (17-13, 7-12) at 1 p.m. CST at Fiserv Forum.

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU. 

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