It’s not who’s winning early that matters, nor who’s winning in the middle. All that matters is who’s winning at the end.
That was Marquette men’s basketball on Tuesday night, as they made their point at the end of both halves to pick up an 82-68 victory over St. John’s at Fiserv Forum. The Golden Eagles are now 4-3 in Big East play and 14-5 overall on the season, while St. John’s drops to 1-6 in the conference and 12-8 overall.
It was not a pretty start to the game. We didn’t see one team with 10 points until the 13:13 mark, as Julian Champagnie gave St. John’s a 10-9 lead then, and the Golden Eagles didn’t get there until a Sacar Anim free throw with 11:55 to go. If I remember correctly, that 10-9 mark is when I noticed that the Golden Eagles were shooting 18% so far in the game, so you get the idea as to how poorly it was going.
It got worse before it got better for Marquette, as St. John’s found themselves up five. First it was at 18-13 as Mustapha Heron hit one of his four three-pointers of the game, then after Markus Howard answered with one of his own, Heron clapped right back with another triple to make it 21-16 with 8:08 left to go in the half.
That’s about the high water mark for St. John’s in the game. The Golden Eagles responded to the flurry of Johnnies offense, and an and-1 bucket complete with free throw from Howard knotted things up at 23. St. John’s bounced back from that to take a four point lead, and that’s when MU turned it up a notch. After another three from Heron with 4:58 left in the first half, MU would shut the Red Storm down for the next three-and a half minutes, and a PU3IT from Howard punched Marquette out to a six point margin. Jamal Cain would turn it into a 12-2 run to close the half, thanks to a Steve Wojciechowski magic trick in the final 10 seconds. SJU called time to draw up a play, but the Golden Eagles came out and played zone for the last few moments and it led to an awful attempt in the lane by Rasheem Dunn.
37-31 MU at the break quickly became 42-31 less than 20 seconds after the break because Nick Rutherford 1) fouled Markus Howard shooting a three and 2) chirped loudly about it and earned himself a technical foul. Five straight freebies for MU’s all-time leading scorer was the result, as was the 11 point lead.
And yet, 90 seconds later, it was a four point game.
League games are funny like that.
Marquette would push it back to 10, St. John’s would drag it back down. MU got it to 14, St. John’s answered with a 10-0 run. A triple from Anim broke it up, but then the Johnnies got it within two, 62-60, 8:08 to go. Now it was MU’s turn for a run. Jamal Cain split a pair at the stripe. Markus Howard got fouled shooting three again. Another triple from Anim. That’s 7-0 in about three minutes.
St. John’s would get it back to within five twice over the next 90 seconds, but that’s as close as it got. After Josh Roberts got the second of two free throws to fall to make it 70-65, the Golden Eagles kicked into high gear, closing the game on a 12-3 run, very close to mirroring the 12-2 run that ended the first half. This time, there was no defensive stand at the end, as the Golden Eagles were up 14 and all that was left to do was let the clock expire.
Free throws were the name of the game for Marquette here, as they canned 26 of their 33 attempts in the game. Markus Howard did the most damage, going 12-for-13 on his way to 32 points and passing SJU’s Chris Mullin on his 31st point to become the #6 scorer in Big East history. It wasn’t just points for the senior from Chandler, Arizona, on this night, as he added six rebounds, four assists, and a steal. Sacar Anim went for 21 points, lighting up the sky with a 4-for-11 performance from behind the arc, and adding four rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal.
The Jayce Johnson/Theo John two-headed monster situation continues to work nearly perfectly for Wojciechowski and his team. The pair of big men took advantage of the lack of size on St. John’s roster to combine for just three points, but 14 rebounds, four assists, and seven blocks. Yeah, that’ll work out just fine, just like Koby McEwen’s line of 10 points, nine rebounds, and three assists will.
Up Next: A trip to the Bulldogs’ den is what awaits Marquette. On Friday night, they’ll be in Indianapolis to face #13 Butler, but it’s a wounded Butler team. The Bulldogs have lost three straight games after falling 76-61 to #9 Villanova at The Finn on Tuesday night. MU actually has a half-game advantage on BU in the conference standings right now, so we’ll wait and see if the Golden Eagles can widen that gap.