The Golden Eagles withstood a 36 minute lightning delay and a 7-1 run by the defending Big East and NCAA champions, but at the end of 60 minutes, it was #2 seed Marquette men's lacrosse that won the 2016 Big East tournament championship, defeating #1 seed Denver, 10-9.
HISTORICAL MOMENT BREAKDOWN:
- It's Marquette's first ever Big East tournament title.
- The win gives Marquette the Big East's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which will be the first time that the Golden Eagles appear in the national championship tournament.
- It was Marquette's first win against Denver in five tries.
- It was Marquette's first win over a team ranked #1 in the national polls.
- It was the first win over a team ranked #1 in a poll by ANY Marquette team since Dwyane Wade and Robert Jackson beat Kentucky in the 2003 NCAA tournament.
- It was Denver's first loss to a Big East opponent since joining the conference in 2014.
- It was Denver's first loss at home since 2013.
There's a lot to unpack there, so if you need to take a breather and think about all of that, feel free. We'll be here when you get back.
It was a 7-0 run that lasted over 20 minutes that gave Marquette control of this game. Conor Gately scored his only goal of the game to finish the first half scoring with 4:21 left before intermission. That made the score 7-3 at the break. Gately's goal was one of just a few bright spots in the first half for Marquette. Sure, they led 1-0 before lightning interrupted the game that had already been delayed by 30 minutes. But Denver went nuts after the 36 minute break, taking a 2-1 lead after the first quarter, and seemingly blowing the game open with five goals in the second quarter.
That's when Marquette went full Denver on Denver.
A week ago, the Pioneers scored six unanswered goals in the third quarter to break open the game between these two teams en route to a 14-11 victory that clinched the regular season title for DU. This week, it was Marquette posting that very same 6-0 mark in the third period to turn that 7-3 deficit into a 9-7 lead with 15 minutes to play. Tanner Thomson was a whirlwind in the third, scoring three of his four goals in the game. Thomson's markers included the game tying goal with 6:10 left in the frame and the sixth and final goal of the period with 3:25 left.
Still, there was 15 minutes left, and Denver didn't come into this game with a record of 13-1 overall by sheer luck. Zach Miller scored twice in the early goings to knot the game at nine with 12:19 left to play. Miller's goals both created drama in the game and served as an overall indicator of what Marquette's defense was doing to Denver. A week ago, Denver's three best scorers - Miller, Connor Cannizzaro, and Tyler Pace - combined for eight goals and five assists against Marquette. In the Big East title game, Miller's pair in the fourth were the only goals that that trio would muster, and they recorded just three assists as well. The championship performance by Marquette's D was a perfect example of what they have done so well under head coach Joe Amplo: Take away what their opponents do best and force them to find other ways to beat them. It didn't work last week Saturday, but it was in full effect this time around.
Where were we? Oh, right, tied at nine. Things quieted down for a bit after Miller's second as the two teams suddenly realized that the next goal would most likely win the game. That next goal came off the stick of Andy DeMichiei, wearing Kyle Whitlow's #6 for the second straight game. Officially, DeMichiei's goal is unassisted as he dodged the incoming Denver defender and blasted a bounder past DU goalie Alex Ready, but it was a selfless pass from Ryan McNamara to DeMichiei who was open in space that triggered the strike.
That gave Marquette just under six minutes to defend. They won the ensuing faceoff and burned the clock down to just above four minutes left before being forced to shoot by the stall warning clock counting down. Denver's next possession? Turnover by Jack Bobzien, forced by Nicholas Eufrasio, the least heralded of MU's defensive starting trio. After a Kyran Clarke shot in transition was saved by Ready, Denver had another chance. Cannizzaro's shot never got to the net and goalie Cole Blazer came up with the ground ball. After a timeout with 1:18 left, Marquette just had to avoid Denver's ride for 78 seconds. That didn't happen as All-Big East First Team defender Christian Burgdorf stripped Conor Gately along the end line and gained possession.
That gave Denver the ball in their offensive end with 53 seconds left after a timeout. What happened? Denver went to Cannizzaro, of course. He's The Man around those parts, so you give it to him to get it to overtime..... except Liam Byrnes provided an exclamation point to his Big East Defensive Player of the Year season. Cannizzaro slipped trying to dodge Byrnes' defensive efforts, Byrnes swung his long pole perfectly on Cannizzaro's grounded stick, causing the ball to squirt out, again perfectly, right to Griffin Connor, who cleared it. Last man with the ball was Gately, who hucked the ball to the heavens with mere seconds left and raised his arms in celebration.
How did head coach Joe Amplo react? Shock and amazement at what this fourth year program has accomplished.
Thomson led the way for Marquette with five points, as if to provide a perfect example of where this program is headed. Sure, the Golden Eagles have 19 seniors, the largest senior class in the country. Sure, there's the First Five, the five redshirt seniors who have been here since Day 1 with Amplo, building this program up from the point where Amplo and associate head coach Stephen Brundage literally had to go buy balls at a sporting goods store themselves so the team could practice. But Thomson barely played as a freshman, and he didn't score at all until the fifth game of the season this year. The sophomore from Toronto was inserted into the starting lineup after Whitlow went down for the year with an injury suffered in practice, and all he's done since then is scored 16 goals, tied for the third highest total on the team. Thomson, DeMichiei, and Grant Preisler, all players who will return for Marquette next year, combined to score seven of Marquette's 10 goals and tally 10 of Marquette's 15 points. That includes Ryan McNamara, the One Man Minnesota Wrecking Crew, who was held without a goal by Denver, but still registered two assists.
Four Golden Eagles were named to the Big East All-Tournament Team: Thomson, Blazer, faceoff whiz Zachary Melillo, who played DU's faceoff whiz Trevor Baptiste to a standstill, and Byrnes, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
How about some highlights, courtesy of the Big East and Fox Sports?
Up Next: The Golden Eagles and their Big East championship trophy flew back to Milwaukee VERY early on Sunday morning, where they'll await their NCAA tournament placement. If the selection committee (which, by chance, happens to include Amplo), gives them one of eight national seeds, Marquette will get to be the host for their first ever NCAA tournament game. If not, they'll head out on the road next Saturday or Sunday with an eye on continuing this crazy run.
The NCAA Selection Show airs on ESPNU at 8pm Central on Sunday night.