With 2:24 left in the first half at CHI Health Center in Omaha on Monday night, Mitch Ballock made one of his eight three-pointers on the night to put his #9 ranked Creighton Bluejays ahead, 41-29, against Marquette. It had been a relatively close and competitive game up until the last couple of minutes, and so it looked like the Bluejays were asserting themselves and their top ten ranking in a manner that wasn’t completely surprising.
And then Marquette cut that lead to just six before the half ended..... and then Ballock beat the buzzer with another three going into intermission to make it a nine point game, 44-35.
Felt like that was a statement about how this game was going to go.
And then Marquette held the Bluejays to 44% shooting in the second half and just 5-for-13 from behind the arc, and at the end of 40 minutes, it’s the Golden Eagles highfiving and celebrating as they go into Omaha and knock off the #9 team in the country, 89-84. It’s the second top ten win for Marquette this season after they defeated then-#4 Wisconsin in the fourth game of the season.
Oh, and this was the league opener for both teams, so Marquette is now in first place* in the Big East.
*- yes, it’s a three-way tie with Villanova and Seton Hall at 1-0, shush.
Okay, so yeah, Marquette won after trailing by 12. Here’s the wilder part: Marquette led by 12 with 5:21 to play. That’s a 40-19 ... I guess we’ll call it a run by the Golden Eagles for most of the first 15 minutes of the second half. The big difference is that they stopped letting Creighton shoot threes. Generally speaking, that’s what you should want to do against the Bluejays on defense, but for whatever reason, Marquette was bad at that in the first half. Creighton went 9-for-19 from long distance in the first 20 minutes, but with MU holding onto that 12 point lead late, CU had only attempted six threes in the entire second half, and hadn’t tried one at all since there was 13:52 left in the game. Not surprisingly, the game was tied at that point.
Also not surprising: Creighton started getting looks at the rim from behind the arc in the final five minutes, and things tightened up again. A three from Denzel Mahoney with 3:35 to go cut the lead to four. Another three by Ballock with 33 seconds left meant it was just a three point game and very definitely not over. But Marquette made their free throws — four from Koby McEwen and two from Justin Lewis — and the Golden Eagles were able to put the game away, even with two fouls called on three-point attempts by the Bluejays in the final 20 seconds.
You know who was big in the second half? Freshman forward Dawson Garcia. He scored 12 of his 14 points after intermission, shooting 5-for-6 from the field and making repeated strong moves to the basket in the final 20 minutes of the game. He also added four rebounds and two blocks in his 16 second half minutes to finish with a 14&10 double-double and a side of three assists.
Also big was Greg Elliott, who hit all three of his long range attempts in the second half to get 11 of his 14 points as Marquette rallied. He also got whistled for a technical foul for flopping to the ground literally seconds after being warned to not do that, so hey: everyone needs to have something to improve on for next time.
D.J. Carton was your top scorer for Marquette on the night, finishing with 20 points on 6-for-13 shooting including a very shiny 5-for-7 from long range. He added five rebounds, five assists, and two steals for a very good all around performance. Justin Lewis just barely missed a double-double of his own, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Up Next: Well, I feel bad for Seton Hall. The Pirates come into Fiserv Forum on Thursday night with Marquette sharpening their knives and getting ready to prove that “we beat two top ten teams” MU is the real team. SHU is 4-3 on the year after starting off the season with three losses in their first four games and are coming off a 77-68 win over St. John’s in their Big East opener last Friday.