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Marquette battles past Xavier 66-59

Is Xavier now on the outside of the tournament looking in?

Heading into tonight’s matchup, most bracketologists still had Xavier in the tournament. ESPN’s Bracketology had the Musketeers as the second to last team in while CBS still had Xavier as a solid 10 seed. Marquette may have pushed them out tonight in their hard fought win at home.

Marquette played a very strong first half. The Golden Eagles defense was (surprisingly) swarming and aggressive, forcing Xavier into many tough and bad shots. The Musketeers shot a poor 1-11 (9.1%) from 3 in the first half and the Marquette defense locked down Zach Freemantle. They held the Xavier big man to 0 first half points on three shots. Greg Elliott played a big role in Marquette jumping out to a first half lead. Elliot came off the bench hot, scoring 10 points while going perfect from the floor (4-4, 2-2 from 3). His second 3-pointer came before the halftime buzzer, giving Marquette a 32-24 halftime lead.

Xavier’s came out with a clear objective to start the second half: feed Freemantle. Freemantle was fed early and often in the second second half as Xavier tried to get their leading score going. Marquette’s defense was not as active and Xavier pulled the game even at 40 with 11:27 remaining. Marquette would assist on their five baskets to jump back up by seven 52-45. Despite Paul Scruggs heroics, stopping DJ Carton and finishing on the other end to pull Xavier within one with 1:06 to go, Xavier would fall short.

While he won’t shine in the box score, Theo John played an excellent final home game for Marquette. His defense set the tone early and carried through much of the game. Xavier doubled John on most of his touches and he made them pay. His patience and vision was evident and he finished with a career-high four assists. Senior Jamal Cain played well, showcasing tough defense, strong rebounding (team high 7), and efficient scoring (13 points on 5-7) shooting. Despite his excellent play carrying over the the second half for the brief time he was in, Elliott was very questionably nowhere to be seen for the last 8+ minutes of the game. Wojo went with Koby McEwen instead.

There isn’t much of an explanation (other than injury/health) for why Elliot was not in to close the game or why McEwen, 29 minutes tonight compared to Elliott’s 19, should still be receiving more minutes. Wojo had seemed to recognize this as Elliott had played equal to or more minutes than McEwen in Marquette’s last four games (3-1 in that span) and Marquette fans will have to hope Wojo returns to that in the Big East Tournament.

Xavier ends the regular season on a heartbreaking stretch. Since losing senior guard Nate Johnson, the Musketeers are 1-3 and may have played themselves out of the tournament. Paul Scruggs did what he could to will Xavier to victory. He finished with 18 points (7-9 from 2), six rebounds and three assists, but his 3-point shots just wouldn’t fall (0-5 from 3). Xavier could never get a consistent offense rolling against Marquette. The Musketeers are #1 in the Big East with 18.1 APG, but finished with only 11 tonight. Having been just barely included in the tournament by bracketologists before this loss, Xavier’s postseason hopes now rest on the Big East Tournament.

Marquette (13-13, 8-11 in Big East) jumped to the 9 seed for the Big East Tournament with this win. They’ll now face off against 8 seed Georgetown (1-0 against Georgetown this season) on March 10th for the chance to play the hobbled 1 seed Villanova.

Xavier (13-7, 6-7) finishes seventh in the Big East. They will also play on March 10th against 10 seed Butler (2-0 against Butler this season). If they advance, they will face off with 2 seed Creighton who they beat on February 27th.