Let’s start with the easy part of all of it: This was one hell of a basketball game in Omaha on Tuesday night. All the respect in the world for everyone playing and coaching in it to provide us with a very good night of sports to watch.
But at the end, it was our favorite team, #10 ranked Marquette, walking out of CHI Health Center Omaha with the win, defeating #19 ranked Creighton by the final score of 73-71. First place Marquette now has a one game lead on Providence in the Big East standings, and a two game lead over both Creighton and Xavier, as the X-Men lost at home to Villanova on Tuesday evening.
Like I said, it was an incredible basketball game. I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking down the nuances of how the game went from minute to minute. We can first skip forward to the 11 minute mark of the first half, as that’s where the Bluejays got a three-pointer from Francisco Farabello to take a 17-13 lead. More importantly though, that triple started off an 18-7 Creighton run that was capped off with just less than five minutes left in the half by another three-pointer, this time from Ryan Nembhard. That one put the home team up 12, 32-20, with what would be their largest margin of the game.
Marquette would almost immediately slash that lead in half and eventually down to five. Baylor Scheierman hit the final bucket of the half, a three-pointer to make him just 2-for-7 from long range in the first 20 minutes, but it left Creighton with an eight point advantage, 40-32, heading to the break.
As always, we don’t know exactly what the halftime message was from MU head coach Shaka Smart, but we do know that his halftime messages have been incredibly effective over and over this season. This game counts as one of them as the Golden Eagles scored the first eight points of the second half to immediately wipe out Creighton’s halftime lead and make it a brand new ball game, 40-40, with 17:08 to play. The Jays immediately answered with a three from Trey Alexander, and then got the margin to four on another three, this time from Mason Miller, but that’s where the halftime message kept kicking in.
Oso Ighodaro scored with 15:45 to go to start off an 8-3 burst, and Marquette had a one point lead. A little later on, Ighodaro kicked off a 12-0 Marquette run and he capped it off, too. Marquette up 10, 63-53, 7:59 to go. That’s a 22 point shift in about 17 minutes of basketball, 43-21 favoring the Golden Eagles if you prefer to see in that way.
But Creighton’s #19 in the country and the Big East preseason favorite for a reason, and we all know that those Bluejays can defend. Marquette would not record another field goal until there was less than a minute to go. But Creighton wasn’t tearing it up on the offensive end either. More than two minutes went by without anyone scoring, which is good news for the team with the 10 point lead. Lead’s down to 8, down to 5, no one scores for another two minutes, again, good news for the team that’s out front. Eventually, MU’s inability to get a bucket caught up with them, even if they were getting some free throws along the way, and a layup from Scheierman knotted the thing at 67 with 1:19 to go.
So what did Marquette do? They went to Big East Player of the Year candidate (favorite??) Tyler Kolek. Marquette need a big time bucket, and their point guard went and got it for them. He went straight down the lane on consecutive possessions, straight at 2022 Big East Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kalkbrenner, and scored both times, Marquette up two after both of them, and less than 30 seconds to play after the second.
Creighton missed a shot, they fouled Kam Jones who made both his freebies, Marquette by 4, less than 10 seconds left. The Bluejays got it up the court quickly and Nembhard fired off a three..... that missed, putback by Kalkbrenner, and MU was inbounding without a timeout with about two seconds left.
And then Nembhard yanked Kam Jones by the waist on the inbound. You want to argue that it wasn’t worth the foul that Jeff Anderson whistled, that’s fine, Greg McDermott tried to and Anderson was NOT having it from the Creighton head coach, but the contact was plain to see. Jones missed both the free throws on the other end — possibly/presumably the second one on purpose — and that was that. Officially, Creighton’s last ditch effort at the horn was not off in time, it’s not in the official stats, and it missed anyway.
Kam Jones was Marquette’s leading scorer on the night, going for 19 points even without those last two missed free throws, and he beat out both Oso Ighodaro and Tyler Kolek just barely, as those guys had 18 points each. Jones and Ighodaro both tied for the team lead in rebounds in the game with six, while Kolek added four rebounds, six assists, and three steals to his night. Stevie Mitchel continues to be a dominant force on the defensive end, generating five of Marquette’s 10 steals.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and Fox Sports?
Up Next: Well, first we’re going to pay extremely close attention to Wednesday night’s Connecticut/Providence game, as a Huskies win would send the Friars two games back of Marquette along with Xavier and Creighton. Then we’ll focus on Saturday evening, when DePaul comes to Fiserv Forum for a 6:30pm Central time tipoff. As things stand right this second, Marquette’s magic number for at least a share of a Big East title is 2. A Connecticut win on Wednesday would make it 1, any single Marquette victory the rest of the season — say, on Saturday against DePaul — would clinch a share. IF UConn wins on Wednesday. If not, well, any two wins in the final three games will do it, too.