We had a Stefon Special in the final game of the 2023 Maui Invitational quarterfinals. #4 Marquette picked up a 71-69 victory to advance to the semifinals, but that game had EVERYTHING. Both teams had double digit runs, there was a dead ball technical foul on an elbow to the jaw that wouldn’t have been out of place in a UFC fight, a guy who was just cleared by the NCAA over the weekend started and played 27 minutes, and the smallest player on the court made two crucial plays in the final 40 seconds to help lock up the win for the Golden Eagles.
The game started out as a quality back and forth affair between a top five team and a team that wants to find their way into the Associated Press top 25. A three-pointer from Will McClendon with 9:41 left in the half started tipping the scales towards the Bruins, and they would lead by as many as eight at one point. Marquette struggled to shoot the ball — not so much with getting good looks, just with A) settling for outside shots and 2) knocking down the shots that they were getting. Through the first 20 minutes, the Golden Eagles were connecting on just 39% of their shots overall and a very not okay 28% of their three-point attempts.
Still, Marquette was able to somewhat put the clamps on UCLA over the final seven minutes of the half. The lead never went past eight, and MU trimmed it to just two at two points in the final three minutes. A three-pointer from, yes, McClendon again, right before the horn had UCLA up 35-30 at intermission.
David Joplin opened up the scoring after the break, cashing in a three-pointer 11 seconds after play resumed, but then things got very bleak for Marquette. UCLA ripped off their double digit run right there, scoring 10 straight and taking a 45-33 lead with 15:03 left in the game. The only thing comforting about that fact was that there was so much time remaining.
If Shaka Smart said to his troops at the under-16 timeout, “hey, there’s a lot of hoops to play, don’t try to get it back all at once,” that would make sense. Just standard issue coaching. Here’s the thing: Marquette got it back all at once. Not on one play, obviously, but after Oso Ighodaro banged in a dunk coming out of the stoppage, the Golden Eagles went on their double digit run. It ended up being bigger than UCLA’s, as they ripped off 17 unanswered points and burned nearly four minutes of clock time in the process. Five different Golden Eagles scored along the way, and it was 50-45 Marquette with 11:06 to play.
The run technically turned into 24-5, and Marquette’s lead maxed out at seven points on a three from Kam Jones, with 9:20 to play. The Golden Eagles were molten hot at this point, and it almost started to feel like the question was not if MU would win but by how many.
Six straight from UCLA, four from free throws, ended that conversation and pulled the Bruins within one. A three-pointer from — yeah, you know it — McClendon knotted the game at 59, although we didn’t know it at the time. Live, the refs said it was a two-pointer, and it would get reviewed at the next stoppage and added a point to UCLA’s total, thus actually tying the game at 64 at the under 4 minute stoppage.
A free throw from Ighodaro and a three from Joplin put Marquette up four with two minutes to play, but a foul on Chase Ross as Sebastian Mack pulled off The Thing in the eyes of the referees — I say he was pulling the pump fake back down when Ross actually made contact with him, but oh well — and he sank all three freebies to make it a one point game with 96 seconds left. A sloppy pass by Tyler Kolek became Marquette’s seventh and final turnover of the game, and after it almost looked like Marquette was going to break up UCLA’s possession, Adem Bona got it in deep, pivoted, and scored for the 69-68 Bruins advantage.
On the other end, Marquette ran their offense, looking to see what the defense would give them in an effort to win the game with any shot. What they got was the defense sagging alllllllllll the way off of Sean Jones, who came into this game 1-for-6 on the season from long range and then he missed his first four long range attempts in the first 39 minutes and 23 seconds of this contest.
He did not miss his fifth.
Still, 36 seconds to play. Marquette up two, so that was good, deny the three, go to overtime at worst. Jones followed up his big time shot with what might have been a big time deflection with just seconds left on the shot clock. He only sent it out of bounds, but that means Lazar Stefanovic had to rush a three-point attempt that missed. Mack nearly became the hero of the day in Westwood, but his last second attempt after securing the offensive rebound was well defended by Ighodaro and it bounced off the rim for the MU victory.
David Joplin was Marquette’s leading scorer on the night, connecting on five of his 11 three-point attempts to get to 19 points along with four rebounds and a steal. MU also got double digit points from Oso Ighodaro (14) and Kam Jones (12) who fouled out in 22 minutes of action. Tyler Kolek barely missed a double-double on nine points and nine assists.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and ESPN?
Up Next: Marquette advances to the Maui Invitational semifinals, where they will face #1 ranked Kansas. The Jayhawks led host Chaminade by just 12 points at halftime on their way to a 83-56 victory, led by a triple double from Kevin McCullar, Jr. That game is set to tip off at 9:30pm Central on Tuesday night.... which is in about 19 hours as I type this.