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Marquette soars past Xavier for first Big East Title

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Image Credit: JD Walker – 1495 Sports/Stream Punk Sports
Marquette Point Guard Tyler Kolek Accepting the Big East Player of the Year Award.

The Marquette Golden Eagles flew past the Xavier Musketeers 65-51 in the Big East Tournament Final Saturday evening at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tyler Kolek was named the Dave Gavitt Big East Tournament MVP, leading Marquette with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals in a wire to wire victory in which Xavier never led. Adam Kunkel led Xavier with 14 points in defeat. 

The Golden Eagles dominated this one from the start, jumping out to a 21-4 lead over the first seven and a half minutes. The smothering defense from Marquette held Xavier to single digits until just under nine minutes remained when a Desmond Claude jumper brought Xavier into double digits at 26-10. Marquette opened up a 33-10 lead with 7:02 left, then Xavier clawed back with a 10-0 run over the next four and a half minutes keyed by Adam Kunkel’s five points in that stretch. Marquette snapped out of the brief funk right before halftime going into the break with a 39-24 lead. 

In the second half, Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones keyed a 15-3 burst for the Golden Eagles over the first seven minutes. Kolek stole an errant pass by Cesare Edwards and drove for a fast break layup, followed by a David Joplin three pointer shortly afterward to put Marquette up 54-27 for their largest lead of the game with 13:18 remaining. The Musketeers responded with a 10-0 run of their own keyed by two three pointers from Kunkel and Claude. A Kolek three pointer stopped the burst but then both teams smothered each other on defense with neither team notching a field goal for the next four and a half minutes. Kunkel drilled two more shots from long range with about four minutes left but the closest the Musketeers could get was 13 points for the remainder of the game. Another Kolek jumper with 3:14 left put the Golden Eagles up 63-48 to remove whatever shreds of doubt were left as Marquette flew to a 65-51 victory capping off the best season in their Big East history. 

Marquette’s Tyler Kolek described the euphoria after the final buzzer: “All the moments they’ve been through with me have led up to this moment right here. To share that with my high school coach, my brother, my dad, my two best friends, it’s special. There is no better feeling.”

Marquette coach Shaka Smart was asked about the team’s defensive philosophy and how he would articulate it: “Violent. You know, we try to play with great violence, energy. We don’t have the biggest, strongest guys. Depending on the team we’re playing, sometimes we’re over-matched in terms of size at almost every position, but our guys have heart and they have incredible fight to them…We’ve really played for the most part very, very sticky, tough defense. We’re going to need that if we want to advance in the NCAA tournament.” 

Xavier coach Sean Miller acknowledged that the lack of depth due to Zack Fremantle’s injury was an issue that caught up with his team: “On our end, not making any excuses, but where we are at with our depth, playing three games in three days, that’s not to our advantage. I’m looking forward to our guys being able to get home, take a deep breath, get our health and our feet under us, and then be able to come out with a fresh new beginning in next week’s tournament.

Miller was confident in his team and the rest of the Big East going into the NCAA Tournament: “The 20 games that Marquette’s played, 20 that we’ve played, has really prepared us for what’s to come. I think that Marquette and I believe a number of other teams in our conference can really have a great run in the tournament. Know what? I hope we can as well.”

News and notes:

  • Marquette swept both the league Regular Season (17-3) and Tournament championships, both firsts for the program since they joined the Big East in 2005. 
  • Tyler Kolek was the MVP of both the Big East regular season and the tournament, the first player to do so since Villanova’s Josh Hart in 2017.  
  • Marquette’s victory tied their school record for victories in a season, set by the 1970-71 team coached by the legendary Al McGuire that finished 28-1. 
  • This was the first time since the reformation of the Big East in 2013 that a team from the Midwest won the Tournament Championship at Madison Square Garden. Previously only Villanova (5 times), Georgetown, Seton Hall, and Providence had won in the era of the new Big East. 
  • Xavier fell to 0-2 in Big East Tournament finals, having lost the 2015 final to Villanova 69-52.
  • Marquette (28-6) and Xavier (25-9) await their matchups in the upcoming NCAA Tournament which will be revealed in the Selection Sunday special at 6pm on CBS. Both teams are projected to be Top 5 seeds in their regions. 

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