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RECAP: Marquette knocks off Xavier, 81-72

Marquette won its third straight Big East game Saturday as it punctuated National Marquette Day with a 81-72 win over Xavier.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette won its third straight BIG EAST game Saturday as it punctuated National Marquette Day with a 81-72 win over Xavier. Jake Thomas led the Golden Eagles with 18 points on six three-pointers and Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner each added 16. Justin Martin led all scorers with 20 for the Musketeers.

Marquette did an exceptional job defending Semaj Christon all game long. The sophomore guard scored 28 points in the Jan. 9 matchup between the two teams, but scored just 10 points Saturday. Derrick Wilson played 39 minutes of lock down defense on Christon as the junior guard forced him into committing five turnovers, and recorded a career-high six steals.

The difference maker in this contest was in the turnover department as the Golden Eagles forced 19 turnovers. The Musketeers were otherwise offensively sound, shooting 54.2 percent from the field and out rebounding Marquette 16-9 on their offensive end. The turnover battled proved decisive however, as Marquette went plus-14.

Just as they have recently, Marquette once again had an exceptional game at the free throw line. The Golden Eagles went 24-for-27 for an 88.9 percent showing from the stripe. Gardner carried a lion share of that load, making all 10 of his attempts.

Xavier quickly cut into its 10-point halftime deficit, but threes from Thomas and Steve Taylor, Jr. pushed Marquette's lead to 59-47 with 12:56 remaining. Xavier pushed back with a 7-0 run and forced Buzz Williams to call a timeout two minutes later.

On cue, the Golden Eagles punched back with an 8-0 run of their own. The lead stretched to 13 as Jamil Wilson capped the run with a contested three-pointer from the left corner.

The Musketeers battled back though, and with 4:08 to go, a Myles Davis layup cut Marquette's lead to 72-66. Even after Matt Stainbrook fouled out with 3:12 remaining, a triple from Martin cut Marquette's lead to four just a minute later.

Isaiah Philmore had great position under the basket to cut the deficit to two on Xavier's next possession, but he committed a questionable rebounding foul. Gardner made a pair of free throws to make it 77-71 with 1:19 to play. Christon continued his rough night by missing a pair of free throws the Musketeers desperately needed on their next trip down.

The Golden Eagles came out firing in the first half and opened up an early 19-8 lead. The team shot 50 percent for the half and forced 11 Xavier turnovers. Jamil Wilson led all scorers with nine points at the break and Derrick Wilson matched a career-high with five first-half steals to go along with six points. Marquette held star guard Christon to just five first half points.

Marquette next hosts Creighton on Wednesday.