It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves on Saturday night at Fiserv Forum.
Thankfully, the good parts of the first half outweighed the bad parts of the second half, and thanks to some late game muscle from Tyler Kolek, YOUR #10 ranked Marquette Golden Eagles picked up a 90-84 victory over DePaul and, at 15-3 in the league, clinched at least a share of the 2023 Big East regular season championship!
The Marquette Golden Eagles have clinched at least a share of the #BIGEASThoops Regular Season ! pic.twitter.com/uSgzaWwmq8— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) February 26, 2023
The story of the first half is easy. Kam Jones went crazy bananas behind the three-point line, connecting on six of his eight long range attempts, including one right before the horn at halftime. Mix in the rest of the squad shooting 5-for-13 from long range and DePaul committing 12 turnovers and a 13-0 MU run that tipped things over, and the Golden Eagles were up 21, 49-28, at halftime.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY KAM JONES pic.twitter.com/cwaMU7bXqq— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) February 26, 2023
It was very clear that Marquette would not be denied their share of the Big East title on this night.... or it definitely seemed that way.
Head coach Shaka Smart didn’t seem to like the energy of his team in the first three minutes of the second half, and he subbed out four of his five starters to send the reserves in to play with Oso Ighodaro with MU up 20, 55-35. Not a lot changed, maybe a little bit of the energy got loose on the floor, and it looked like Smart was getting his point across to his team as two free throws from David Joplin kept the margin at 20.
Then DePaul went on a 6-0 run.
Back in went the starters after a timeout, and the lead stabilized the the 15 to 18 space for a good long while. Tyler Kolek, he of the 11 first half assists, scored with a layup with 8:59 to go, putting Marquette up 72-54. Okay, everyone understood the assignment, let’s just get this home.
TK with the impeccable footwork #MUBB | #WeAreMarquette pic.twitter.com/jkdMcbh185— Marquette Basketball (@MarquetteMBB) February 26, 2023
7-0 run by DePaul in almost exactly two minutes.
Okay, fine, still a double digit lead, just hold the line, right?
Nope, that 7-0 run turned into 12-2, and it’s an eight point game with 5:08 to go.
This is where Tyler Kolek probably won himself Big East Player of the Year. The score was 74-66 at this point. Marquette finished with 90 points. Kolek scored 15 of those 16, with the only other point coming as a Kam Jones free throw with 23 seconds to go.
Marquette needed those 15 points, too. Three-pointers on consecutive possessions from Javan Johnson and Umoja Gibson slashed Marquette’s lead to just six, 78-72, with 3:19 to go. Kolek just kept answering and answering and answering to hold the Blue Demons at bay. They would not get closer than six until the final 30 seconds, first 5 on a free throw from Eral Penn with 25 seconds left, then 4 on two free throws from Caleb Murphy with 15 seconds to play.
But Kolek answered, knocking in the free throws that Marquette needed to stop the Blue Demons from rallying back from that halftime deficit.
After all was said and done, Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones tied for the game high in points with 22, just getting there in two wildly different fashions, as Kolek went 11-for-12 from the charity stripe for half of his points. Jones hit seven threes — yes, just one in the second half — and just one free throw — yes, that one with less than a minute to go — to get to 22. Kolek also finished with 14 assists plus two steals and just one rebound.... but that one rebound came on the offensive end when MU desperately needed a bucket and he immediately flipped it back up and in. Olivier-Maxence Prosper added 11, including a very important and-1 in the second half, while Oso Ighodaro had 12 points, four rebounds, and two assists in just 18 minutes of foul hampered action.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and Fox Sports?
Up Next: Marquette can secure an outright Big East championship with one more win this season, and they have two games to do that. The first chance to do that comes on Tuesday, when the Golden Eagles visit Butler. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:30pm Central time, and FS1 will have the broadcast from Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler is coming off a win over — hey, look at this — DePaul on Wednesday night and will have taken the weekend off before hosting the Golden Eagles.