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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Marquette shuts down UConn down the stretch to advance to Big East title game

David Joplin finished with 17 points off the bench in No. 6 Marquette’s 70-68 win over No. 11 UConn in the Big East Tournament semifinals March 10 at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

NEW YORK — Marquette men’s basketball had never made it past Friday night at the Big East Tournament.

Until tonight.

The top-seeded Golden Eagles (27-6, 17-3 Big East) held off the four-seeded UConn Huskies (25-8, 13-7) 72-70 at Madison Square Garden, pushing the needle closer to earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“We really emphasized to our guys that we had to win on the defensive end,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said. “UConn is a terrific team on both ends of the floor. They had some advantages relative to us with their size, strength, girth, offensive rebounding. We knew it would be a fight.”

It is Marquette’s first trip to the Big East title game since joining the league in 2005-06.

Statistical leaders 

Junior guard Tyler Kolek and sophomore forward David Joplin both led the sixth-ranked Golden Eagles with 17 points a piece. Kolek also had six assists, four rebounds and two steals on the night.

Sophomore guard Kam Jones chipped in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and a team-high six rebounds.

Junior forward Adam Sanogo paced No. 11 UConn with game-high’s of 19 points and 11 rebounds, marking his sixth double-double of the season.

Kolek sets the tone and then the depth lends a hand 

Marquette set the pace to open the contest utilizing the connectivity and success of the Kolek-Oso Ighodaro pick-and-roll action as the junior duo combined for six of the Golden Eagles first eight points.

Kolek continued the hot hand for Maquette as he hit five of his six first shots for 14 points.

With 2:56 left in the first half, Kolek headed to the bench after picking up his second foul.

The absence of the Big East player of the year, however, didn’t slow down the Golden Eagles’ offense.

Jones hit a 3-pointer from four-feet out of the 3-point line to bring the Marquette lead to three at 36-33.

“I’m really proud of our young guys,” Kolek said. “Me and Oso probably played the most minutes on the team this year and us being out in key moments, they really stepped up for us.”

UConn’s Alex Karaban ended the back-and-forth first half by knocking down an open 3-pointer in the corner at the buzzer to tie the game at 38-38 going into halftime.

JopTrain pulls into The Garden 

Joplin, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, was an X-factor off the bench for Marquette.

With Ighodaro in foul trouble across the night, Smart said Joplin impacted the game on both ends of the ball.

“Thought he did a phenomenal job coming in the game and changing the complexion of the game with his shooting and with his ability to stretch out the defense,” Smart said.

Marquette opened the second half on 16-8 run building a 10 point advantage.

Of those 16 points, Joplin cashed in nine of them connecting on two 3-pointers and three free-throws.

“It’s a different dynamic where he’s like that and it is not even him hitting shots,” Ighodaro said. “It’s when he’s locked in on defense, we’re a different team. He was fighting tonight, fighting on the post, flying around and that equals him making shots on the other end.

Defensively, Joplin had to handle the physicality and strength of UConn forwards Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan in close outs.

“I knew I had to come in fight for positioning down there and be smart,” Joplin said. “On the offensive end, if they want to post me up down there, I have to manage the offensive end. They’ve got to come out and guard me. I took advantage of it.”

Forcing stops down the stretch 

With both of its playmakers in foul trouble, Marquette leaned on its depth down the stretch.

Prosper hit a triple of his own to put the Golden Eagles up 70-66 with 3:42 to go.

Marquette had to lock down and scrap up stops on its defensive front in the final minutes as it did’t score again.

UConn got the ball back with 12 seconds left, after Kolek missed a 3-pointer, with an opportunity to tie or win.

Once the Huskies brought the ball cross half-court, head coach Dan Hurley opted to not use his final timeout and instead let his team play out.

Hurley’s decision handed UConn its third straight semifinals loss as guard Jordan Hawkins missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Marquette’s defense held UConn to no field goals in its final five possessions and just two points in the final four minutes.

“We knew we needed to have a defensive identity to win tonight,” Ighodaro said. “They were scoring but we were locked in when it mattered the most.”

Hawkins, who entered the night third in the conference in scoring, finished with five points on 2-of-11 shooting.

“That was the defensive key to the game,” Smart said. “We can be beat UConn with their bigs scoring some twos around the basket. We can win the game like we did tonight. I don’t know if we can beat them if Hawkins goes and makes five, six threes and Calcaterra and guys are making.

“Thought throughout the game, our guys stayed attached to him. … O-Max Prosper deserves amazing credit for being locked in on that assignment.”

One more to cut down the nets 

Marquette will take on No. 2 seed Xavier Saturday night in the Big East championship. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. CST on FOX.

Tomorrow night’s title game will mark just the 10th time in the 41-year-old history of the conference tournament being held at The Garden where the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will square off for the crowd.

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

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