Xavier came into this game fresh after having five games off and took advantage of the first round bye in their 18-point victory over Marquette. For the second season in a row, Xavier will play in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament on Friday night.
Trevon Bluiett led the way for Xavier with 24 points on 9-14 shooting that included 5-8 from behind the arc. In the second half, Marquette’s defense struggled to keep him off the three-point line and the First Team All-BIG EAST player made them pay.
Five players for the Musketeers finished in double figures including James Farr and J.P. Macura who each had 12 points for Xavier. The Musketeers shot 53 percent from field in the victory. Xavier also outrebounded Marquette 43-31 and finished with a 42-32 advantage in points in the paint.
Marquette’s struggles tonight began early and continued throughout the game. When BIG EAST Freshman of the Year Henry Ellenson got into foul trouble early in the first half, the offense was not the same for the Golden Eagles who were run out of The Garden following his third foul.
The Golden Eagles shot 38 percent from the field in this one and were just not able to get things rolling without Ellenson on the offensive end. Xavier’s ball movement was key in punishing Marquette as the Musketeers racked up 20 assists in the victory.
Here are three things we learned from this one.
3 Things We Learned:
1) Xavier looks to their depth to carry them
It has been brought up throughout the season how good Xavier’s depth is and it came up big once again on Thursday. Players like freshman star Edmond Sumner came up with big plays for Xavier and their frontcourt with Farr, Jalen Reynolds and others really made it tough on Ellenson and fellow big man Luke Fischer.
“I thought our team was a little different than we've been the last couple of weeks defensively, and we've been making a big point of it in practice” Head coach Chris Mack said. “The message seemed to be heeded. I thought our guys from the very beginning of the game played really hard defensively.”
That defense is a big reason why the Musketeers are not only fighting for a Big East Championship, but also a number one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament. Many players can beat you in a number of ways for Xavier and they were just too much more Marquette.
2) Marquette is lost without Henry Ellenson
Foul trouble for Ellenson really hurt Marquette’s offense and they were not able to get great shots on many of their possessions. Ellenson, Fischer and Haanif Cheatham all finished in double figures, but the offense was never consistently getting good looks. It seems that when Ellenson leaves the floor, Marquette looks lost on the offensive end of the floor. They struggle to find each other and settled for tougher outside shots compared to the solid looks inside that they are used to getting.
“When you say what has he meant, I feel like we can still play whether it's not in the NCAA or NIT, I think we've earned that” Head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “But obviously Henry first and foremost he's a very talented player. He's a kid who loves the game. He showed up -- we've put a lot of pressure on him and the other young guys. And for the most part they've delivered. And that's not easy.”
Wojo added that the team has “given him more responsibility than any freshman in America. I think we've given him a ton of responsibility. And by and large he's delivered.”
Marquette will now have to decide where they want to play postseason basketball and see if Ellenson will come back for another season with the Golden Eagles. If he does not, it could be a rough future for Marquette.
3) Rebounds and paint touches were big advantage for Musketeers
Xavier outrebounded Marquette 43-31 and 30-20 on the defensive glass. It is important in any game to win the rebounding battle and Xavier was able to use it in a way that made it easier for them on offense. They could get a board, run quickly and then find a player in a good position down low on the other end.
“I mean, if I can tell them to come out on fire, it worked. I would do that all the time. The biggest thing was making sure that we earned our shots” Mack said. “Really taking good ones, which I thought we did an excellent job. Might have been two shots I wish we would have had back in the first half.”
Mack added that Xavier “made Marquette work longer defensively. We could get the ball reversed and have good movement and could have balance between our post players and our perimeter players. We have enough guys on the floor that can make shots and make plays. It's very, very difficult.”
The Musketeers will now meet the Seton Hall Pirates in the semifinals on Friday in a highly-anticipated rematch of their last meeting at the Prudential Center.
It is time to get down to the nitty gritty as the top four teams in the Big East will battle it out for a shot to play in the conference final on Saturday. Bucket up everyone, it is about to get good at The Garden.