The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Marquette cruises past Xavier to win first Big East Tournament title

Marquette men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart celebrates in the locker room after the Golden Eagles win their first Big East Tournament title March 11, 2023 at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

NEW YORK —  Winning the Big East regular season title was not the finish line for the Marquette men’s basketball team heading into March.

One night after turning heads with a semifinal victory over No. 11 UConn, Marquette put the finishing touch on its Big East campaign with a 65-50 win against No. 15 Xavier at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

“It’s everything for the community and the 414,” hometown kid David Joplin said. “I’m just glad I get to be a part of it being the first ever and bring history to the city for college basketball’s something we never had before.”

Statistical leaders 

Kolek led Marquette with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting and a team-high eight rebounds.

Sophomore duo David Joplin and Kam Jones added 12 and 11 points respectively.

Adam Kunkel led Xavier with 14 points.

Kolek named Most Outstanding Player 

On Wednesday, Kolek added to his trophy collection when he was named the conference’s player of the year.

Three days later, the 6-foot-3 guard added another to it as he was tabbed with the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Kolek is the 13th player in the history of the Big East to win both awards. He averaged 18.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in three tournament contests.

“Since the day Tyler got to campus, I’ve seen just how hard he works and how much of a competitor he is,” junior forward Oso Ighodaro said. “Last year a lot of people were down on him and no one in this room was down on him. We know who he is and it is good that people are finally waking up and seeing who he is.”

Pivotal play 

Marquette set the tone from the opening tip on both ends and didn’t take its foot off the pedal.

“Our guys played with real force to start the game and that kind of allowed us to have that aggressive advantage in the first couple rounds of the game,” Marquette head coach Shaka  Smart said.

Junior forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper catalyzed Marquette’s first extended run of the night with a 3-pointer at the 18:42 mark.

But perhaps the most pivotal play during its 10-0 run came when sophomore guard Stevie Mitchell won the rebound battle with 7-foot-0 forward Jack Nunge.

“Every game I just try to go out and do my role, which is playing defense and playing hard. And that was just me playing hard,” Mitchell said. “If you do the right thing enough times then good things are gonna happen so that’s just kind of what I was sticking to.

“It got us going early and I think everybody was just doing that throughout the game, which is why we are able to be successful.”

Mitchell skied in over Nunge for the board and put the second chance opportunity back in while drawing the foul.

“Yesterday, he was struggling a little bit on offense, not shooting an open shot. I told him at halftime, he’s the heart and soul of our team,” Kolek said. “He’s what gets us going. He kind of is our engine on the defensive end and that turns into great things on the offensive end.”

The Golden Eagles didn’t loose any steam in its engine as the half continued, causing the Musketeers trouble on both ends.

Ighodaro had one of Marquette’s three blocks in the opening stanza come at the 9:37 mark when he swatted down Jerome Hunter’s layup.

Mitchell then on the next possession buried a 3-pointer in the right corner forcing Xavier head coach Sean Miller to burn his second timeout as Marquette led 26-8 with 9:27 remaining.

Marquette led 39-24 at halftime behind an efficient 43.8% shooting from the field.

Continuing dominance 

Marquette kept pouring the coal into its engine in the second half as it turned gears into cruise control.

With 13 minutes remaining, Joplin swished home a corner 3-pointer right in front of the Marquette bench to extend the lead to 54-27.

Though Marquette sat in the drivers seat all night, Xavier didn’t go down without a fight.

Kunkel hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Musketeers forcing Shaka Smart to call a timeout as the Golden Eagles lead was cut to 61-46.

But the Musketeers comeback was too late as the Golden Eagles cuts the nets down for the second time in a matter of a week.

How did they get here? 

You have heard it a lot of in the last month, Marquette became the first team in the history of the Big East conference to go from preseason picked ninth to regular season champions.

But how did the Golden Eagles do that?

You have to start at the nine game stretch across Nov. 29 and Dec. 31 where eight of nine of Marquette’s opponents appeared in the NCAA Tournament last season.

Marquette went 7-2 in that stretch, with its most notable win being against then-No. 6 Baylor, proving it can play and beat some of the best teams in the country.

As the Golden Eagles climbed in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll in January, so did their offensive rankings on as Marquette became the No. 1 ranked offense.

A more violent and consistent defensive presence broke through the winter cold in February as the Golden Eagles went 8-1 in the final month of the regular season.

Marquette traveled to the Big Apple with a chip on its shoulder in search of its first Big East Tournament title.

“We still have some heads to turn and some people to wake up. We just want to prove ourselves right and we have so much more,” junior forward Oso Ighodaro said Tuesday prior to the team’s departure for New York.

With Saturday’s win, Marquette has won a season-long nine straight games. The Golden Eagles also tie a program record of 28 wins.

Next up

With tonight’s win, the Golden Eagles earned the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Marquette will find out its official seeding tomorrow at 5 p.m. CST during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

Fox Sports’ Mike DeCourcy moved Marquette up to a No. 2 seed after Friday’s win against UConn in his bracket projection today. Meanwhile, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi kept the Golden Eagles as a No. 3 seed in his.

Marquette has never been ranked as a No. 2 seed in program history.

But whether it is a No. 2 seed or a No. 3 seed next to their name, the Golden Eagles don’t care.

“It’s going to be great hearing our name (but) whether we’re a two-seed or a three-seed, it doesn’t change anything for us,” Prosper said. “Whoever we go up again, we’re going to go at them and it’s going to be a dog fight regardless. It’s the NCAA Tournament, we’re going to get every team’s best shot.”

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

Story continues below advertisement
Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *