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We Have Ignition: Marquette 67, #10 Illinois 66

The Shaka Smart era has its first signature victory, and in thrilling fashion

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 09 SIU Edwardsville at Marquette
Tyler Kolek scored the winning bucket with 18 seconds to play
Getty Images

I mean, what?

I didn’t see it coming. I just wanted to see Marquette look better than they did in their first two games. I just wanted it to be fun. I just wanted my trip downtown to Fiserv Forum to end a lot better than some of my other trips to watch the Golden Eagles play in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. I honestly didn’t really think that Marquette had a chance to beat #10 Illinois, even with All-American big man Kofi Cockburn suspended by the NCAA.

AND YET

Tyler Kolek generated a steal out near midcourt with 19 seconds to go with Marquette down one and turned it into an and-1 layup. He missed the freebie, thus giving Illinois one final chance to win the game on a buzzer beater.... and instead, Stevie Mitchel and Kur Kuath tied up Andre Curbelo, Kuath came up with the ball, and YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles defeated #10 Illinois, 67-66.

Marquette is 3-0 on the year and Shaka Smart is undefeated as head coach of the Golden Eagles.

By the way, Troy’s tweet is inaccurate. Might have felt like 20, sure, but the lead was never more than 12, and that’s a good place to jump into the actual recappery here. It looked kind of bad in the first half when Trent Frazier hit a three to put the Illini up eight, 17-9. About a minute later, Andre Curbelo committed his second foul of the game, this one of the offensive variety, and Illini head coach Brad Underwood put his star guard on the bench.....

..... and Marquette immediately went on a 13-4 run to take a 23-21 lead with 4:22 left before intermission.

The rest of the half was close, and MU went into the break up one, 28-27, and hey, minor victory, honestly. The Golden Eagles — and by “Golden Eagles” I specifically mean Justin Lewis here — scored the first two buckets of the second half, and, uh, Marquette’s up five on the #10 team in the country. Should we start taking this seriously?

No, maybe not. Jacob Grandison hit a three to put Illinois up, 34-33, as part of a 9-0 run by the visitors, and MU was down five all of a sudden. Wait, no, there’s a trap door here, three from Frazier, three from Frazier, down nine. Three from Coleman Hawkins, boom, 12 point lead, 58-46.

Okay, well, we had our fun, 10:14 to go, Brad Underwood is gonna go into his locker room after the game and say “boy, we got lucky to come of there with a W, guys, we need to work harder if you want to win games in the Big Ten.”

Illinois didn’t get another field goal for three minutes and forty-five seconds. A three from Frazier — yes, again — clipped a Marquette run and put Illinois back up six, 61-55. Hawkins jammed in a putback dunk to make it eight. Ah, well, we showed some life, that’s what’s important here.

Five straight free throws. Two minutes goes by without Illinois scoring at all. Curbelo hits a freebie. Three more free throws for Marquette, as Illinois just kept putting the Golden Eagles on the line. It’s a one point game, 66-65, with 2:31 to go.

That was it for the scoring in the game. The next bucket for anyone was Tyler Kolek’s layup. Sure, Marquette didn’t do themselves any favors what so ever with all of their problems on the offensive end..... but they gave the Illini absolute hell for five and a half minutes. Hawkins’ putback dunk with 5:33 to go was the last field goal of the game for Illinois. You can look at those final two plays and say “ah, well, MU came up big when it mattered” except Illinois looked totally lost for the final five minutes of the game. Part of it was Illinois just completely technicolor vomiting all over themselves, sure.......

But Shaka Smart’s defensive mindset and structure came up big for his very inexperienced team here.

It’s not a coincidence that the final play of the game, that steal by Kuath, was the third straight stop in a row. It’s not a coincidence that Smart is preaching getting three stops in a row, a kill if you please, and Marquette closes out a win over the #10 team in the country with exactly that: three straight stops to win it.

Darryl Morsell was a god on this night, getting 21 points on 7-for-12 shooting and raining in three of his four three-point attempts and adding five rebounds. Justin Lewis added 17 points, while Tyler Kolek’s layup gave him 12 on the night, and his five rebounds and five assists were pretty neat, too. Kur Kuath’s hands played a major role in this game, as he had five rebounds, five blocks, and two steals along with his seven points.

How about some highlights, courtesy of Fox Sports and GoMarquette.com?

Up Next: On to Charleston! That’s not the next opponent, merely the next location. Coming up this weekend, the Golden Eagles take their unblemished record on the season to South Carolina for the Charleston Classic. First up on Thursday night is Ole Miss, who are 2-0 on the year and will have been off since Friday when the game against MU tips off.