Marquette shot lights-out and got huge contributions from their big-3 in their win over Villanova on Monday. Hoping that this success would travel, they packed their bags and headed to the world’s most famous arena to take on Rick Pitino’s St. John’s squad at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Behind the same paint dominance that they showed against Villanova, the Golden Eagles pushed just far enough ahead of St. John’s to survive a late-game comeback and win their fourth Big East Conference game, 73-72.
The Big East Conference has already proven to be a league of tough competition from top to bottom as we near the midway point of conference play, and that competition was on full display at The Garden on Saturday. St. John’s entered the contest at 12-6 and 4-3 in Big East play, compared to Marquette’s 12-5 overall record and 3-3 in the conference. With such similar season results, what played out on the floor was much of what the records show, and the back-and-forth was a constant deep into the second half.
After putting up a season-high 60 points in the paint against Villanova on Monday, Marquette kept this focus at the front, prioritizing penetration and ball movement into the paint. Most of this success in the paint in the first half came from the Golden Eagles’ guards, with Tyler Kolek, Kam Jones, and Stevie Mitchell combining for 20 of Marquette’s 28 first-half points, all in the paint. Marquette struggled from behind the arc in the first half, not hitting a single shot from the outside. This 0-10 shooting struggle paved the way for one of the wildest stats of the season: Marquette scored 28 points in the first half, ALL IN THE PAINT. Not a single deep shot or free throw was made, as Marquette trailed St. John’s 34-28 at the break.
The shooting struggles worked their way out in the second half, with Marquette hitting three of their first four three-pointers and six out of nine in total in the second half. Forcing turnovers and stops through Shaka’s patented “kills” defense, the Golden Eagles went on a 10-0 run and were able to stretch the lead to 13 with under 8 minutes to go in the game. Going blow-for-blow all game long, St. John’s answered with their own 13-2 run late in the game to trim the lead to 2 with just over a minute to go.
Free throw shooting has proven to be such a pivotal part of holding a lead late in games, and Marquette would be confident in getting the ball into the hands of All-American Tyler Kolek and sending him and his 94% free throw shooting to the line. But sports can be funny like that. Kolek uncharacteristically missed three straight free throws after missing only three free throws ALL SEASON. These misses kept the game within one possession for the final minute, but Marquette was able to get stops and timely rebounds all the way until the final out-of-bounds play was drawn up by Rick Pitino. St. John’s Daniss Jenkins missed a pull-up 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Marquette Nation let out a sigh of relief as the Golden Eagles were able to escape, in all senses of the word, with a tough Big East road victory.
All five Marquette starters scored in double figures, led by Oso Ighodaro’s 17 points, and Tyler Kolek secured his eighth career double-double with 15 points and 11 assists. Freshman Zaide Lowery continued to impress in big moments with his recent opportunity of playing time, cleaning up with a put-back dunk and a timely three, both pivotal to maintaining a slim lead in a game where Marquette needed every single point. As a team, Marquette added 52 more points in the paint and forced 10+ turnovers, a feat they have accomplished in every game this season. A hard-fought road win was just what the Golden Eagles needed to solidify their ability to win away from Fiserv Forum in what continues to be an uber-competitive Big East in 2024.
Next up for Marquette is another Big East road date with a struggling DePaul team at Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Wednesday at 8pm ET.