University basketball broadcaster and reporter
NEW YORK – On Thursday evening, following UConn’s Big East quarterfinal win over Providence, Dan Hurley didn’t hold back:
“This is our place. We own MSG.”
For the third straight season, the Huskies are going home after the Big East semifinals. Marquette held off Connecticut in a classic, 70-68 in front of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden on Friday night to advance to the program’s first Big East championship appearance in program history. Despite not scoring in the final 3:42 of action, the Golden Eagles won it with five consecutive saves to close out the game. That defense was a product of the fire lit under Shaka Smart’s team after reading Thursday’s commentary from Connecticut.
“Well, it was a short stay in their (UConn’s) second home,” Marquette sophomore Kam Jones (14 points, six rebounds) said after the win. “We wish them a safe journey back to their first home.”
“It seemed like a lot of people were giving UConn a game coming,” Smart said. “And comments were made about who owns the Garden and that sort of thing. And, you know, we said wait a minute, we won this league. So we’re not going to take a backseat to anybody.”
How did Marquette win the game? They scripted their Jordan Hawkins coverage. UConn’s star shooter, who shot 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and scored 20 points in the last meeting between the teams on Feb. 7, scored just five points on 2-of-11 from ground in Friday’s loss.
“We can beat UConn with their bigs hitting some twos,” Smart said. “We can win the game like we did tonight. I don’t know if we can beat them if Hawkins goes and makes five, six threes. Our guys stayed tied to him.”
With the lead at four with 15:41 remaining, Big East Sixth Man of the Year David Joplin went on a roll, hitting a 3-pointer followed by three straight free throws to extend the lead to 10. The student sophomore finished with 17 points, his first game in double figures since Jan. 28.
Marquette’s backcourt also stepped up as usual in this 27-6 rout, with Tyler Kolek finishing with 17 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Jones had 14 and six rebounds.
Also worth noting: With big star Oso Ighodaro dealing with serious issues, Golden Eagles freshman Ben Gold delivered a clutch nine minutes off the bench.
“At one point, I looked out and we had a bunch of freshmen and sophomores fighting, fighting, clawing for their lives,” Smart said. “These guys didn’t blink. These guys, if you open them up, you’ll find championship DNA in them. It’s exciting because these guys are in their second year. We have three freshmen playing significant minutes.”
[Shaka Smart and Marquette: The perfect fit at the perfect time]
On the other hand, it marked the third consecutive year that Connecticut lost in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.
“It’s a frustrating thing for us, and I’ll speak for where we’re at,” Dan Hurley said of the 25-8 Huskies, who are top three in Mike Decourcy’s latest forecast. “Just to get back to the semifinals for the third year in a row and, I mean, three pretty excruciating losses. We were determined to play for a championship tomorrow. I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we would, with all due respect to Marquette, we know how exceptional they are. They’ve had a chance to be a Final Four team this year or better.”
The Golden Eagles are the youngest team in the Big East. They are 40 minutes away from winning the conference tournament for the first time in program history.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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