Leads of 1-0 and 2-1 fell to the wayside on Saturday afternoon, as Marquette lost to #17 Creighton in five sets, 3-2, in the 2017 Big East tournament championship match.
The Golden Eagles head to Selection Sunday with a record of 22-9 overall after finishing 15-3 in Big East play. As of November 19th, the Golden Eagles were 32nd in the NCAA’s official RPI, and the mere act of playing Creighton in the championship game should help boost MU up a little bit. Even with the loss of the automatic bid by way of the tournament title, Marquette should still reach their seventh straight national championship tournament.
But it shouldn’t have been that way.
Yes, Marquette won the first set 25-22, and even though MU won the regular season match at the McGuire Center in straight sets, it would have been a fool’s errand to believe that Creighton wasn’t capable of taking a set, which is what they did in the second frame, 25-18. The only real bummer about the whole deal is that Marquette rallied to win the first and jumped out to a 7-2 lead early in the second before Creighton ran away late.
Marquette grabbed control of the third set with a 7-1 run early capped off by a Jenna Rosenthal kill. That had MU up 10-6, and the lead grew to 18-12 on a kill by Hope Werch. Creighton came ripping back into the match with the next six points, but the Golden Eagles answered with a 5-2 run and hammered down the nails on a 2-1 lead on a kill by Allie Barber.
All Marquette had to do to hoist the Big East trophy was win either the fourth or the fifth set. Through 23 points of the fourth, MU trailed the Jays 12-11, and that’s fine. It’s competitive and so on and so forth. That’s the exact point where the wheels came off for the Golden Eagles. Creighton snagged the next three points of the match, all on kills by Marysa Wilkinson, and then outscored MU 10-6 the rest of the way. Given that 13-6 blast from the Bluejays, is it any surprise that they jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the fifth and decisive set? Those 31 points ended up deciding the Big East title right there. Creighton yanked control of the fourth away from Marquette, closed them out, and then exploded out to a lead where MU was going to have to outscore them 12-4 to win. 12-4 runs against top 25 teams are essentially impossible, especially as they just need to not screw up in order to win.
Jenna Rosenthal led all attackers with 18 kills in the match, and she added five digs, three blocks, and a service as as well. While Marquette did an excellent job defending the net at multiple points, creating a wall that the Jays struggled to even get the ball past, Creighton did an even better job affecting Allie Barber’s attacks. The newly crowned Big East Player of the Year recorded 18 kills as well in the match, but it took her 71 attacks to do it and, relative to the number of swings she made, Barber only committed six errors in the match. 18 kills on the 65 error free swings is still only a hitting percentage of .277 after Barber hit over .350 in the regular season. That’s not blocking her, that’s not forcing her to miss attacks long or wide, that’s just putting a body behind Barber’s shots and preventing them from hitting the floor. Five Bluejays finished with at least 10 digs, led by a monster total of 34 for Big East Libero of the Year Brittany Witt.
Up Next: The NCAA Selection Show will air on ESPNU at 8pm Central time on Sunday night. The Golden Eagles will be looking to qualify for their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament, and given that the athletic department just announced that there will be a viewing party at the Sports Annex starting at 7:30, I have to figure that they’re feeling pretty confident about that event not turning into a massive bummer.