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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Marquette advances to Big East championship for second-straight year after 79-68 semifinal win

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Ben Gold (right) and Kam Jones (left) defend Providence’s Devin Carter in Marquette’s 78-69 win over Providence in the Big East Tournament semifinals. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

NEW YORK — No Tyler Kolek be damned.

Marquette men’s basketball was once again without its starting point guard, whose oblique injury has kept him sidelined for the last five games. But that didn’t matter Friday night.

Not when the rest of the Golden Eagles were there to lead the charge over the No. 7 seed Providence Friars 79-68 in the Big East Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.

Kam Jones had yet another commanding performance with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists. Oso Ighodaro provided 20 points on 7-for-17 shooting, also going 6-for-6 from the stripe.

David Joplin (12) and Stevie Mitchell (10) both put up double-digit points, and Chase Ross — after an early injury scare which saw him leave to the locker room for a few minutes before coming back — hit an acrobatic layup to help seal the win.

It all resulted in a trip to the Big East Tournament finals for the second-straight year for Marquette, and an opportunity to finally best the No. 1 seed UConn Huskies, who swept the Golden Eagles in the regular season.

“Stevie and his teammates just continued to battle,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said. “The trust that our guys had in our way more so culturally really than anything is why we’re sitting up here right now.

“We know there’s a lot of things we’re going to need to do better if we want to be able to win tomorrow night. But this group, we played five games now without Tyler, and really proud of the way that our guys found ways to compete and found ways to win games.”

Golden Eagles hang on to victory

Marquette extended its first half lead to 35-18 after Ighodaro grabbed a defensive rebound and converted the possession into a dunk.

The Golden Eagles went into the locker room with an 11-point advantage after Joplin got fouled on a 3-pointer and went 2-for-3 from the line. But the Friars — backed by a sizable contingency of rowdy fans — didn’t go down without a fight.

“I think the biggest thing is every game we come in expecting it to be a war,” Mitchell said. “We’re not expecting to blow whoever we play out. I think that helps us when we’re in those positions, we knew it was going to be like this.”

They dwindled Marquette’s lead to two points, 68-66, off a 6-0 run with three minutes remaining and made The Garden sound like Amica Mutual Pavilion.

The Golden Eagles, however, pulled themselves up by their boot straps and closed the game on a 7-0 run to book their ticket to Saturday night.

“I thought in the building there was a frantic nature,” Smart said. “I thought it affected us at times, but I thought our guys’ poise down the stretch in the midst of that kind of chaotic environment is a huge part of why we won.”

Marquette’s bench plays crucial role

Smart got what he asked for.

After the Golden Eagles’ narrow 71-65 quarterfinal win over the Wildcats in overtime Thursday, Smart said everyone would need to step up.

And while the starting five showed out strong, Marquette’s bench was also pivotal in the win.

Sophomore forward Ben Gold’s only field goal (he finished 1-for-2) extended the Golden Eagles’ second-half lead to 54-39 with 13:29 remaining in the game. The make ended a three minute scoring drought.

“Ben is just a dog. He’s getting better and better. You can see it. Every every single game, he’s getting better,” Ighodaro said. “His confidence is growing. He hit a big shot for us.”

Alongside Gold on the Golden Eagles’ shortened bench were first-year guards Tre Norman and Zaide Lowery.

Lowery played 15:49 and was a defensive presence for all of them.

He was forcing deflections — Smart’s bread and butter — grabbing rebounds and, like Gold, hit a momentum-swinging three which gave Marquette a 21-16 lead partway through the first half. Norman was able to grab three boards, two of which came on the offensive end.

“They were huge. Zaide and Tre have been huge all season for us,” Ighodaro said. “They’re ready to play every time they get in there. They’re tough. They make winning plays.”

Marquette looks for revenge against UConn

The Golden Eagles remember the two losses to the Huskies.

In February, Marquette got thumped 81-53 inside the XL Center. In March, the Golden Eagles lost again, 74-67, on their Senior Night. They haven’t forgotten.

Marquette can get its get-back, though, and do it in a way that puts another banner in the Fiserv Forum rafters.

“We came here to win the tournament and we’re in a position to do that,” Ighodaro said. “We have a big task tomorrow playing UConn. They’re a good team, and we’re ready for it.”

Kolek still hasn’t been cleared to play, but Marquette has been able to win without him.

The only question is, can they do it a third-straight time, and light up New York City blue and gold for the second year in a row?

“The first two times we played them, credit to them, but I feel like we haven’t been ourselves for 40 minutes,” Jones said. “And if we do that tomorrow, I really love our chances.”

This article was written by Jack Albright. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @JackAlbrightMU.

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About the Contributor
Jack Albright, Executive Sports Editor
Jack Albright is a sophomore from Charlton, Massachusetts studying journalism. He is the Executive Sports Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-24 school year. In his free time, Jack likes to hang out with friends and watch Formula 1. He is excited to write fun stories about all things Marquette athletics and oversee new types of digital content.

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    Mark SimonsMar 16, 2024 at 1:37 am

    Great write up. Did not see the game due to traveling. Appreciate the insights to the ebb and flow.

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