The beautiful thing about playing basketball in the Big East Conference is that a team is constantly presented with opportunities to pick up valuable wins against top level opposition. So far this season YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles have had six chances to knock off a ranked opponent on the road, but had yet to manage to close the deal. Tonight they went to Hartford to take on the Jim Calhoun-less No. 14/15 UConn Huskies with their postseason hopes hanging in the balance. This was the final chance to put a quality road win on the resume. Nothing like waiting until the last minute. And I do mean the last minute.
Connecticut got out to an early lead - up 11-3 at the first media timeout. The rest of the first half was all Marquette. For the first time that I can ever recall in my history watching MU basketball (which goes back to the Mike Deane era), Marquette deployed a zone defense... and it WORKED. UConn was flummoxed by the 2-3 zone and went ice cold for the remainder of the half. Marquette, meanwhile, looked like hungrier team. They forced turnovers, crashed the boards, finished at the rim, and extended their lead to 34-23 at the break. Jimmy Butler set the pace with 13 first half points. It was an excellent half of basketball.
However, as we Marquette fans know all too well, one good half does not a victory make. UConn came out of the locker room hot. They scored the first seven points of the half and quickly had the crowd awake and the Golden Eagles back on their heels. Every MU fan watching was thinking "here we go again." When Kemba Walker converted a 4-point play to get within 2, we were reeling. When some German dude nailed a trey from the corner to give the Huskies a 41-38 lead, blue and gold clad fans everywhere were going into a full blown panic. When Jeremy Lamb made a wide open lay-up to put UConn up 8 with 10:21 to play, we all said in unison "this thing is over."
Fortunately the team doesn't think the same way. They still had a run left, and by the 4:25 mark this game was tied at 53. While most of us were doing our best impression of Randy Quaid in Major League 2, the boys on the floor were looking to win this thing. Trailing by two with 20 seconds left, Marquette double teamed Kemba Walker who made an ill-advised pass across the court. The pass was deflected by Darius Johnson-Odom, picked up by Dwight Buycks who got it back to DJO for the game tying lay-up, and we had bonus basketball in Hartford! The OT was all DJO all the time. He took the momentum from the game tying bucket and tore through the extra session with MU on his back. Finally.... Marquette has a resume road win.
Other news, notes and some awards after the jump.
Jimmy Butler Player of the Game - When you score 11 of your team high 17 points in the last five seconds of regulation and overtime, AND make the steal and the basket that saves the game (and maybe the season), then the least we can do is make you the JFB POTG. So congrats DJO, this Bud's for you!
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game - This is a tough call tonight, but I'm going to give the nod to Vander Blue. Vander gave Buzz some quality minutes off the bench tonight. He scored 7 points, went 5-6 from the charity stripe, pulled down 2 boards, got a steal, and played some of his usual tenacious defense. He also went with the Lazar Hayward-esque, gold headband look... which I like.
Play of the Game - Obviously the play of the game was the game tying steal and lay-up. But that's just too easy. So I'm going to give some love to the other play of the game, the 3-pointer by Junior Cadougan. With 3 minutes to play, and MU down 2, an offensive rebound leads to the ball being kicked out to a wide open Cadougan, who calmly steps up and buries a triple. It was just the second 3-pointer of Junior's college career. He gave Marquette the lead and made a lot of people believe that they just might be able win this thing.
Up Next - Fresh off his 52 point performance against Notre Dame, Marshon Brooks and the Providence Friars pay a visit to Milwaukee Sunday at 3:00 CST for some more Catholic on Catholic action. For all the good that tonight's win did us, a loss on Sunday would do just as much (if not more) harm. Handle business Sunday and the Big Dance is well within reach.