After a halftime tie at six, #1 Denver scored six unanswered in the third quarter and then withstood a rally from the Golden Eagles to defeat #18 Marquette, 14-11, on Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Pioneers win the Big East regular season title and the #1 seed in the conference tournament next week. Marquette will have to settle for the #2 seed in the tournament, which means they'll play #3 Villanova on this coming Thursday in the semifinals.
Marquette is now 1-3 on the season against their four most difficult opponents, including three straight losses. The win against Villanova got them into the conversation for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, but losing the last three of these games might not be enough to get the Golden Eagles into the field. On the upside, their strength of schedule metrics have skyrocketed because of the games against Notre Dame, Duke, and Denver, and it will only get better by playing Villanova again in the Big East tournament. As of this past Thursday, Lacrosse Magazine had Marquette in the final at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, so at this point, the safest possible path into the Big Barbecue for MU will be winning the Big East tournament.
That's probably going to involve beating Denver in the title game, though.
For 45 minutes on Saturday, Marquette proved that they belonged on the field with the #1 team in the country. That's a long way from the 16-1 loss to Duke just eight day earlier. After Denver went up 2-0 to start the game, Marquette answered with three straight, including two from Kyran Clarke, to give them the lead at the end of the first quarters. Denver went full Denver to open the second quarter, ripping off three straight to answer MU's run and take a 5-3 lead. Clarke broke that run to record his first career hat trick, and Tanner Thompson tacked on to retie the game at five each. Marquette won the ground ball after a Connor Cannizzaro goal and found freshman long stick midfielder Brendan Connolly for his first career goal to knot the action at six at the half.
Then the third quarter happened, and Marquette took a break from hanging with the Pioneers. Denver outshot Marquette 11-4, and essentially played make it/take it lacrosse for the whole 15 minutes, winning five out of the six faceoffs in the period. Brendan Bomberry got the 6-0 run started for Denver by scoring the only man-up goal of the game. It wasn't a fast barrage of goals, as there was more than a minute in between each of Denver's goals. They just slowly cut away at Marquette, building a 12-6 lead with just 15 minutes to play.
Marquette fired back right off the top of the fourth quarter, scoring three straight, including two from Tanner Thomson to make it a 12-9 game. Time became Marquette's enemy at that point, because Thomson's second goal came with 6:13 remaining in the game. Connor Donohue snapped the run for the Golden Eagles, but they weren't done. Ryan McNamara got two more goals for MU, with the final one coming with 51 seconds left. That made it 13-11, and 51 seconds is a long, long time if you can win faceoffs and score in transition quickly. That didn't happen, though, and Denver scored an empty net goal while MU was in a ride to try to force a turnover.
Three Golden Eagles - Clarke, Thomson, and McNamara - scored hat tricks, and McNamara was the game's high point man with seven points on three goals and four assists. Cannizzaro, the presumptive Big East Offensive Player of the Year, had the most goals in the game with four. Denver's Trevor Baptiste was his usual dominant self on faceoffs, winning 19 of the 28 draws.
Up Next: Marquette looks to bounce back from losing two straight for the first time all season when they face Villanova in the Big East semifinals. The Golden Eagles obliterated the Wildcats 11-3 at Valley Fields earlier this season, but this one will be at Peter Barton Stadium in Denver. You can catch both Big East semifinals on CBS Sports Network on Thursday, with Marquette and Villanova leading off the doubleheader at 5:30pm Central.