If there were any doubts for how the Marquette Golden Eagles would look in their first bout of postseason basketball, they certainly extinguished them.
Marquette lost its shot at a Big East regular season title, but it’s not trying to let the opportunity at a tournament championship slip out of its hands. The Golden Eagles came into Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup with the St. John’s Red Storm fresh off of a four-game losing streak.
Eager to return to its winning ways and avenge getting swept by the Johnnies during the regular season, Marquette swarmed St. John’s from opening tip and went on to win 86-54, advancing to its first-ever semifinal game since conference realignment.
”It was one of our more complete performances of the year,” Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I thought our defense was outstanding to hold them to 30 percent from the floor...Ponds was 4-for-14. I thought it all started with our defense, then on the offensive end I thought we really shared the ball well. The ball found the best shot a lot of times.”
Throughout the regular season, Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard never seemed to hit a wall against any of the Golden Eagles’ conference opponents--except for St. John’s. The Red Storm had placed the clamps on him, defensively, holding him to just a combined 25 points on 7-of-32 shooting (21.9 percent) over both previous meetings this year.
”They definitely used their length and athleticism to their advantage,” Howard said of facing the Red Storm throughout the regular season. “They would speed me up a lot, and the difference tonight was--given my teammates--they really stepped up big in terms of taking control of the game from the early start. Once they were able to do that, it opened things up for me. Just trusting them and them really getting us to a great start.”
This time around, Howard was able to soar freely, leading the Golden Eagles with a game-high 30 points. Howard began the game making each of his first four shots, before going on to finish with a 8-of-15 clip. He also had seven rebounds and four assists.
”Markus is the Big East Player of the Year for a reason, and it’s not just because he can score,” Wojciechowski said. “You’re talking about a complete player who every team’s gameplan is geared to stop him. What he’s been able to do this year is fantastic.”
Marquette held the lead for a vast majority of the game. The Golden Eagles sat comfortably with a double-digit lead to start the second half. However, a run by St. John’s that ended in back-to-back transition dunks by Mustapha Heron and Justin Simon made it 43-37, with 14:58 remaining in the game. The scoring spurt drove Wojciechowski to call time out.
After the break, Howard went on a personal 7-0 scoring run, which sparked an even greater 23-2 Marquette run that spanned for nearly six minutes after that time out. Sam Hauser topped off the spree with a layup and a trey that made it 66-39, with 9:34 left in the game.
St. John’s never recovered. The Golden Eagles kept the lead well above double figures for the rest of the game, as the Red Storm’s shooting struggles continued. Marquette pushed its lead as high as 35 points.
For the entire game, the Johnnies shot just 20-of-61 overall (32.8 percent) and went 3-for-20 from beyond the arc (15.0 percent).
”Offensively, we struggled all night,” St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin said. “...We had nothing going all night, and then defensively we broke down.”
St. John’s held the lead for just 16 seconds during the entire game. After Theo John sank a layup to open up the game, L.J. Figueroa responded with a three for a 3-2 lead that lasted until Marquette came right back with a Sacar Anim jumper on the next possession. From there, Marquette never gave it up.
Over the final 10:03 of the first half, the Golden Eagles outscored their opponent, 18-10, to take a 38-26 lead. Ed Morrow slammed down a dunk just before the buzzer to add the finishing touches on a strong opening half by Marquette.
Aside from Howard, Anim also finished in double figures for the Golden Eagles, chipping in 13 points towards the winning effort. Sam Hauser also had 10 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
For St. John’s, Justin Simon had a team-high 14 points and eight rebounds. Shamorie Ponds had 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
”Proud of my team,” Wojciechowski said. “Obviously, we have great deal of respect for St. John’s, they made it incredibly tough for us in the regular season. Our guys responded, it’s a new season, that’s how we’re approaching it--0-0. We’re proud of the first step we made in the new season. After tonight, we reset for tomorrow, and it’s 0-0.”