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Not The Best Start: #22 Xavier 80, Marquette 71

The Golden Eagles end up taking a loss in their Big East opener.

Syndication: The Enquirer Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

It was in Marquette’s hands, and then it wasn’t, and then it was within reach.

But at the end, it was Xavier’s basketball game. At the final horn, the Musketeers got the nine point win over the visiting Golden Eagles, 80-71, and Marquette drops to 0-1 in Big East play and 8-4 overall.

I believe that if you asked head coach Shaka Smart, the first 10 or so minutes of this game might have looked exactly what his platonic ideal of Marquette basketball is supposed to be. The Golden Eagles were playing with energy and a little bit of the violence, to use the head coach’s own words, and a layup from Greg Elliott gave Marquette a 26-17 lead with 10:33 to go.

And then things got bad. Tyler Kolek, who was masterfully controlling the flow of the Marquette offense picked up his first foul of the game at the 9:25 mark. With 7:13 to go, Kolek snagged his second, and was subbed out.

Three minutes later, Dwon Odom scored on a layup to put the Musketeers up three, 33-30.

16-4 run in three minutes.

But the game was not over, although that probably had a lot to do with the result. It was just a two point game at the half, 38-36, although maybe it shouldn’t have been. Marquette had a couple of very ugly “wait, how much time is left on the shot clock?” possessions late in the period that helped the Musketeers hold the advantage.

The 16-4 run probably didn’t truly decide the game, honestly. Why? Well, that’s because Xavier opened up the second half by scoring the first five points to take a 43-36 lead. That prompted a “what did we just talk about?” timeout from Shaka Smart, and then things got worse. By the time we got to the under-16 media timeout, Xavier was up 50-40. That’s a 33-14 run by the Musketeers over the previous 14-ish minutes of action. There’s your ball game right there.

The good news is that Marquette did not roll over and die here. They kept fighting back, cutting that lead in half by the under-12 timeout. They slowly but surely whittled away at it, and with 3:03 to go, Greg Elliott cashed in a three-pointer, one of two on the day for him, and suddenly Marquette was only down one, 70-69.

Clearly anyone’s ballgame at that point. That 19 point swing was almost completely eliminated.

Almost. Not all the way.

MU didn’t score again until Elliott got a jumper to go off a feed from Kolek with 56 seconds left.... but that one just cut the margin to five, 76-71. Letting Xavier score six straight in between was the final kick in the pants that MU couldn’t absorb. Nate Johnson hit a three on the other end when Marquette got crossed up rotating, and that was that.

Elliott led MU in scoring here with 18 points before fouling out late, and he added four rebounds and three assists. Tyler Kolek got his three-point shooting together here, going 2-for-5 behind the arc, although he had a late attempt that missed in a spot where MU needed any kind of a bucket in the worst way. Kolek also had five rebounds and a team high seven assists plus two steals. Justin Lewis (15) and Darryl Morsell (14) were MU’s other double digit scorers at Cintas Center.

Up Next: Things don’t get easier. Marquette’s final game before Christmas comes on Tuesday night as the Golden Eagles get their first home game in Big East play. It’ll be UConn coming to town, and we’ll have to see if the Huskies are still ranked when that happens. They lost 57-53 at home to Providence on Saturday in their first Big East game of the year.