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Marquette Wire

Marquette completes second half comeback to advance to Round of 32

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Kam Jones scored 18 points in the second half of Marquette’s 87-69 win over Western Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Stevie Mitchell turned and flexed to the erupting Marquette bench like he was Thor.

He had just grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in the basket for the and-one to give Marquette men’s basketball a 71-63 advantage over Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. So celebrating like a god only made sense.

“We wouldn’t be here without Stu (Stevie),” junior guard Kam Jones said. “We need what he brings to the table every night, man. Like T (Tyler Kolek) said, we try to make that known, like we need you to set the tone from the first tip.”

The No. 2 seed Golden Eagles used that energy to trigger a 16-6 run and seal their 87-69 win over 15-seed Western Kentucky Friday afternoon at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. 

“Just grateful for the response,” Marquette head coach Shaka Smart said. “We talk about building championship habits. One of the most important of those is the way we respond to adversity, and the guys did a great job of that today.”

Marquette mounts second-half comeback

It was Smart’s message at halftime that brought new life to the Golden Eagles after a less than ideal first half.

“Coach told us before the second half started that the more aggressive team is going to win the game, and we really wanted to come out and be aggressive starting on defense, and that opened a lot of stuff up on offense,” junior guard Kam Jones said.

That aggressiveness was shown right from the get-go, as it took just over five minutes for Marquette to retake the lead — thanks to a 12-5 run — 50-48.

The Golden Eagles went onto outscore the Hilltoppers by 25 points and were led by Jones, who scored 18 of his 28 points in the second half.

“Coach just did a good job of, like he said, changing the look on your face, and I feel like first half, me personally, I was a little tight,” Jones said. “I just really, really, really wanted to win. I think that’s good, but you’ve got to find a way to channel it and have a clear mind.”

In the second half, Marquette held Western Kentucky to 26 points while shooting 47% from deep and at a 55% overall clip.

“Our whole team ramped up our aggressiveness on the defensive end; much, much more Marquette basketball, flying around, getting our hands on the basketball,” Smart said. “We got eight kills, which is a huge goal of ours, and not easy to do.”

The Hilltoppers’ first-half offensive surge

The Golden Eagles had a nine-point lead with 7:52 to go in the first half. Then, the Hilltoppers fed off the underdog energy in the crowd and tight Marquette offense to quickly turn the tables.

Western Kentucky hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to get within three points and kick off a 21-8 run to grab a seven-point lead heading into the locker room.

“Western Kentucky played with phenomenal aggressiveness in the first half,” Smart said. “Hats off to their team, the way that they competed and battled. Tyrone Marshall was terrific…. We were fortunate to only be down seven at the half.”

Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles could not seem to find an offensive rhythm as they committed eight turnovers, missed seven free throws, gave up eight offensive rebounds and went on several scoring droughts. 

The Hilltoppers shot 47% overall and went 6-for-11 from deep in the first half, while the Golden Eagles finished shooting 39% from the floor and went 5-for-19 from beyond the arc.

Western Kentucky was led by senior forward Tyrone Marshall Jr., who earned 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting in the opening frame.

Kolek thrives in return from injury

It was like he had never missed any time at all.

To start the game, Kolek hit his first two shots — both of them being 3-pointers — with ease, going on to score eight of Marquette’s first 10 points.

“I came out aggressive,” he said.

The All-American point guard finished with 18 points, 11 assists — 10 of which were dished in the final frame — and six rebounds.

“The two days that I did go full go — it’s been basketball,” Kolek said. “I’ve been playing this game a long time. Once I hit the floor, some obvious jitters because I haven’t played since three weeks now, but I think 37 minutes, most minutes in a game, so I thought I did all right with the wind.”

Up next 

Marquette moves onto the second round and will face the winner of 7-seed Florida/10-seed Colorado Sunday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. 

This article was written by Kaylynn Wright. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter/X @KaylynnWrightMU. 

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About the Contributor
Kaylynn Wright, Assistant Sports Editor
Kaylynn Wright is a sophomore from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin studying journalism, and she is an Assistant Sports Editor for the 2023-2024 school year. Outside of the Wire, she enjoys reading and watching baseball, specifically the San Francisco Giants and the Boston Red Sox. She is excited to meet new people and continue to create high-quality sports content for the Wire.

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