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The Quick & The Why Are These Games Always Like This: #17 Marquette 73, St. John’s 72

Can’t we get just one normal game against the Red Storm?

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at St. John Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote a lot of things about Saturday’s Marquette/St. John’s game in the preview. Trends, tendencies, potential strengths, potential weaknesses, all that kind of stuff that you think you need to think about heading into a college basketball game.

You know what I forgot to write about?

Marquette and St. John’s keep playing the most unhinged games against each other.

Last year alone: MU pulls within seven at the break, uses their last bucket of the half to start an 18-2 run, eventually wins by 11 at Carnesecca. Back in Milwaukee in the regular season finale, Marquette uses a 23-2 run to break the game wide open in the first half, but goes quiet in the second, the Johnnies sneak back in, MU looks like they put it away, but things go haywire after Shaka Smart sends walk on Michael Kennedy in the game, MU wins by two. THEN in the Big East tournament, St. John’s went on a 21-2 run in the first half, Marquette answered with a 17-2 run and a 13-2 run in the second half but still needed overtime to put the Red Storm away.

Complete insanity over and over again, and that’s what we got again at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. St. John’s changing their coach and most of their roster since March didn’t matter a lick as the #17 ranked Golden Eagles rallied back but had to white knuckle a game that was in hand for a 73-72 victory.

The “hey, hitting three-pointers is for nerds” offense returned for the Golden Eagles in the first half of this one, as they went 0-for-11 from behind the arc. 14-for-24 inside of the arc was pretty good, but once Joel Soriano sat down for the Red Storm with just over eight minutes to go and the score tied at 20, St. John’s took the game over. After a Tyler Kolek layup put MU in front, the Red Storm went on a 10-0 run that turned into 14-2 over the next nearly six minutes. 34-24 St. John’s powered by five points from Zuby Ejiofor and four from RJ Luis, y’know, their obvious and most dangerous scoring options.

Stevie Mitchell of all people scored twice in the final 90 seconds, both right at the rim, and so the halftime deficit was only six, much less worrisome than the 10 it was just seconds earlier. With both teams scoring much less than a point per possession in the first 20 minutes, it was relatively easy to see how either side could get their act in gear and end up with a win, particularly with MU riding that 0-for-11 horse.

Marquette intentionally looked for a triple to open the second half, and David Joplin cashed it in to immediately slash the margin in half. From there, it turned into a back-and-forth game. MU couldn’t get closer, but St. John’s couldn’t pull away. Along the way, both Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones dropped three-pointers in, but the Golden Eagles couldn’t string anything together for the first six minutes. That was the frustrating part, because all of a sudden, St. John’s got their offense together as well. If the defense from the first half had kept on going after the break, Marquette’s offensive explosion — 17 points in less than five minutes — would have made a huge difference.

As it turns out, building confidence in the offensive end paid off. A Kolek layup with 14:17 to go triggered an 8-0 Marquette run and that meant a 53-49 lead. Two minutes later, a Joplin triple started off a 10-0 run for a 66-56 lead with under eight minutes to go. All told, that’s a 21-7 run favoring the Golden Eagles. Patience is a virtue, as the saying goes.

Another three from Joplin — Marquette was 6-for-9 from long range after intermission to get them to a still not good 6-for-20 in the game — put the visitors up 13, 71-58, with six minutes to go. Full throttle roaring along, up 43-24 in the second half alone.

Except that Jop three-pointer was Marquette’s final field goal of the game.

8-0 run by the Johnnies slashed the margin down to just five, 71-66, with three minutes left, and two free throws from Kolek broke the run up to give MU a seven point margin. He couldn’t do that again after a Daniss Jenkins three, and Soriano cut the margin to four with 95 seconds to go. Marquette couldn’t get a shot to hit the rim when Jop had to throw up a contested long range prayer, and Jenkins split a pair on the other end. One point game, 38 seconds left.

How is this possible? Oh, right, Marquette and St. John’s are playing basketball, my bad, I forgot.

Joplin missed a front end. SJU came up empty, rebound Stevie Mitchell, the Red Storm fouls Kolek, six seconds left, ah, okay, deep breath, the 90+% free throw shooter won’t miss again.

He did. Rebound by Soriano, and the Red Storm call timeout to figure out how they’re going to use their final four seconds to win this game.

The answer was inbounding to Soriano inside the far three-point line and having him throw a one handed 40 foot pass to Jenkins to where the Red Storm were playing three-on-five with every Marquette defender back by the arc. Jenkins missed. Marquette wins. Just barely. It shouldn’t have gone down like that, but it did.

In the words of Akon: Still counts!

All five Marquette starters hit double digits on this day, led by 17 from Oso Ighodaro, who also added five rebounds, two assists, and three blocks, which gives him 102 for his career and makes him the 12th player in MU history to hit the century mark. Tyler Kolek had a double-double on 15 points and 11 assists, and he had a very nice six rebounds, too. Kam Jones added 11, while David Joplin chipped in 13. Zaide Lowery was the only bench scorer for Marquette here, adding five to the proceedings.

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

Up Next: A break from Big East play for an odd road game against what you would normally consider to be a buy game opponent. [adjusts glasses] Oh, wait. That’s DePaul at #311 in the NET as of Saturday morning. Whoops, my bad. Anyway, Marquette visits Wintrust Arena in Chicago for an 8pm Central time tipoff on CBS Sports Network. The Blue Demons have lost five straight games since beating Chicago State on December 30th, with their closest margin being a 68-65 loss on the road against a bad but not that bad Georgetown squad.