I can’t speak for the rest of the Big East, but Cintas Center has quite a large grumpy old men population. These are the type of guys who groan when someone attempts a three they don’t like, believe nearly every opponent’s movement with the ball constitutes a travel, and openly despair when Xavier surrenders an offensive rebound. In short, they are big on the fundamentals.
Tonight, that grumpy old men population endured perhaps one of the most painful losses that it will ever have to endure. See, Xavier actually played pretty well: Markus Howard missed the final 22 minutes, Xavier went 11-23 (47.8%) from deep and had success on the offensive glass with 13 offensive rebounds. One thing made the difference in Marquette’s 86-84 double-OT victory Wednesday night and it was the bane of every grump old Xavier fan’s existence: free throws.
Xavier went 11-25 (44%) from the free-throw line while Marquette went 25-32 (78.1%). It wasn’t just the missed free throws either: the Musketeers couldn’t have picked worse times to commit stupid fouls that led to Golden Eagle free throws. The most glaring example was Naji Marshall’s foul on a long Koby McEwen three-point attempt with nine seconds left in regulation. While Marshall made up for his error by hitting a game-tying three with two seconds left (more on that later), McEwen’s three cold-blooded free throws seemed to seal Xavier’s fate.
The first half was relatively close throughout, with as Marquette took a 39-33 advantage into the locker room. Xavier countered with a 13-2 run to open the second half and Marquette would not lead again until McEwen’s aforementioned free throws with nine seconds remaining. Marshall tied the game on a play inspired by Kris Jenkin’s 2016 title-winning shot and the game proceeded to overtime without the biggest star on the court.
With about 12 minutes to go in regulation, Markus Howard’s face found Zach Freemantle’s elbow and which led to his body quickly finding the floor. The Musketeers used Howard’s incapacity to get a wide-open Kyky Tandy three at the other end to double their advantage. Howard would wind up walking off the court and into the locker room where he would remain the rest of the game. He finished with 18 points pushed his career total to 2510, good for second all-time in the Big East. He should remain on track to break the record sometime in the next month, as coach Steve Wojciechowski said that he wasn’t concerned about a concussion.
Marquette finished the game just fine without their senior leader. Sacar Anim stepped up to hit the game-winning three with 39 seconds left in double-OT. After some traded baskets and field goals, Xavier had a chance to inbound down by two with 2.3 seconds left in the period. The pass was deflected but wound up in Tyrique Jones’ hands with a clean look at the bucket; however, he tried to pass to Zach Freemantle and time expired on the Musketeers.
Anim wound up being the star for the Eagles, scoring 28 points (on just 14 shots), grabbing five rebounds, and thieving four steals. McEwen wound up with 18 while Jamal Cain came off the bench to grab nine rebounds.
The most encouraging development for Xavier was the reemergence of guard Quentin Goodin. After he went through horrific struggles to begin conference play, going 5-33 (15.1%) from the court and 0-18 (you know the %) from beyond the arc, and then missing the previous two games with a knee injury, Goodin led the Musketeers with 19 points off-the-bench on 5-10 (50%) shooting from the field and 5-8 (62.5%) from beyond-the-arc. Marshall, Freemantle, and Paul Scruggs each finished in double-figures while Jones scored 17 and grabbed 15 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season.
For Marquette, another Q1 win is added to the resume of a team that figures to be dancing in March. Beyond that, questions remain about whether Wojo is the right fit. While winning with Howard out-of-commission for the last 22 minutes is certainly impressive, Marquette had a golden opportunity to foul Goodin before Marshall’s game-tying three-pointer with 2 seconds left and didn’t do it. This came one game after losing due in large part to an intentional foul when the score was tied late. Wojo will get until 2 p.m. on Saturday to figure it out when the Golden Eagles welcome DePaul to the Fiserv Forum. That game will be televised on FSN.
Xavier currently has the longest streak of finishing .500 or better in conference play as they have done it every year since 1982, that streak seems to be in serious jeopardy. Barring a minor miracle, Xavier is probably going to miss the tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time this millennium. The Musketeers will get the chance to be beaten by a team with a number next to their name when they travel to No. 10 Seton Hall Saturday. That one tips at 11 a.m. and will be televised on FOX.
In the meantime, I can assure the grumpy, old men out there that Xavier shoots free throws in practice. I promise.