Never in doubt, right?
On the strength of massive efforts from a trio of warriors and despite a superhuman effort from Ben Bentil, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles outslugged and outlasted the 20th-ranked Friars of Providence, 96-91, tonight in double OT at the Bradley Center.
From what I've read, Bentil's bum ankle had kept him out of practice since the Friars lost to Villanova on Saturday, but you wouldn't have known that based on his performance tonight (42 points, 12 rebounds). Bentil was a man possessed in the first half, tallying 18 points on 6-11 shooting from the floor (2-3 from 3-point range) and a 4-6 performance from the stripe. Kris Dunn chipped in 8 points and Junior Lomomba added 7, but that was (almost literally) all Providence had going for it in the opening 20 minutes, as the only other Friar to score was Ryan Fazekas (3 points).
Haanif Cheatham got Marquette on the board right away with a layup, and Marquette hit 6 of its first 9 attempts from the floor (nice) en route to a quick 13-6 advantage. But (and stop me if you've heard this one before) sloppy play and fouls quickly became an issue. Marquette coughed the ball up seven times in the half, and went 6 for 21 from the floor for the rest of the half (40% shooting overall). A 6-11 showing from the free throw line didn't help things, and neither did Luke Fischer's three fouls (two of which were exceedingly silly). Still and all, with Bentil going off, Marquette was fortunate to be down just 36-31 at the half, with Henry Ellenson leading the way with 9 points (on just 3-10 from the floor, though) and Cheatham notching 8.
Bentil limped off the court favoring his bad wheel late in the first half, but once again he didn't look worse for wear after intermission. And Rodney Bullock got into the act in the second half, too, putting up 5 quick points on a dunk and a 3-pointer to boost the Friars to their biggest lead of the game, 44-37, with 17 minutes to go. But after an MU timeout, YOUR Golden Eagles roared back with a 23-7 run, fueled by 9 points from Ellenson and 5 points from Traci Carter, to grab a 60-51 advantage. But behind Bentil and Dunn, Providence wouldn't go away, chipping away at the lead until Bentil's 3-pointer knotted the game at 68 with two minutes left in regulation. Dunn's bomb put the Friars up 1 with a minute left, but after Dunn split 2 free throws with 30 seconds to go, Carter knifed down the lane for a lay-in that tied the score at 72, and we were headed to overtime.
And things were looking downright peachy for Marquette in overtime when Dunn fouled out with 43 seconds left and Cheatham converted the and-1 free throw, staking MU to a 5-point advantage. But though Providence's offense was reduced to one guy who was playing on one leg, the Friars again managed to tie things up, this time thanks to five free throws in the final minute of OT1 (three when Bentil was fouled by Ellenson on a 3-point attempt). Marquette had a chance to run out the clock after Cheatham rebounded Sandy Cohen's missed layup with 8 seconds left, but the freshman inexplicably bricked a no-footer, and Cohen then fouled Jalen Lindsay on the rebound, who converted his throws to tie the game at 81. Carter was mauled -- like, rottweiler on a fresh steak mauled -- driving to the rim on Marquette's ensuing possession, but there was no whistle, and we were headed to DOUBLE overtime.
Finally, mercifully, Marquette was able to drive a stake through the Friars' heart in the second OT, though Bentil continued to do his best zombie impersonation, hitting two more 3-pointers (he finished 6-13 from deep in the game) in the final minute to draw Providence within 3. Cohen left the door open by clanging two free throw attempts with 14 seconds left, but Bentil's final attempt from distance was off, and Carter's two free throws accounted for the final margin. Marquette survives, 96-91.
There are plaudits aplenty for this one, so you can take your pick for man of the match: Henry is certainly deserving with a 26-point, 16-rebound performance, as is Cheatham, who ended with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals, as is Carter, who managed 12 points (and hit all 3 of his throws) to go with 5 assists and just 2 turnovers. But if you're willing to dig a bit deeper, maybe you're willing to follow my lead and give the nod to Jajuan Johnson, who continued his run of impressive play with 16 points (including a dagger 3-pointer with 1:20 left in double OT to give MU a five-point lead), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.
With the win, Marquette sweeps the season series from Providence and runs its all-time record against the Friars in Milwaukee to 10-0. MU sits 16-9 (5-7) on the season, while Providence drops to 18-7 (6-6) ... and out of KenPom's top 50. But whatever. That's something we can worry about another day.