After 18 years in the Big East, Marquette has finally made it to Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Tyler Kolek and David Joplin each scored 17 points, and the sixth-ranked Golden Eagles moved into the Big East championship game for the first time by holding off No. 11 UConn 70-68 on Friday night.
Playing with three key players on the bench in foul trouble for a large chunk of time down the stretch, top-seeded Marquette (27-6) opened a four-point lead on a 3-pointer by Olivier-Maxence Prosper with 3:39 left and then held on at a raucous MSG.
“At one point, I looked out, and we got a bunch of freshmen and sophomores out there fighting, battling, scratching for their lives,” coach Shaka Smart said. “These guys didn’t blink. They were lost in a fight the entire night. It was a ton of fun to watch.”
UConn had a chance to tie or win in the final 10 seconds, but coach Dan Hurley elected not to call a timeout as his team brought the ball across halfcourt.
Jordan Hawkins missed badly on a contested, desperation three at the buzzer — and Smart jumped high and pumped his fist in celebration.
“It felt like a lot of people were giving UConn the game coming in. And there was comments made about who owns The Garden and that kind of stuff,” Smart said. “And, you know, we said wait a minute, we won this league. So we’re not taking a back seat to anybody.”
Marquette limited the fourth-seeded Huskies (25-8) to two points over the final 3:50 and kept them scoreless for the last 2 1/2 minutes, winning for the first time in four semifinal appearances at the Big East Tournament since joining the league in 2005.
Kam Jones added 14 points and Prosper scored 11 for the Golden Eagles, who will face No. 15 Xavier or No. 24 Creighton for the title Saturday night.
Adama Sanogo had 19 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Huskies, who had won six straight and nine of 10.
“We came into this being one of the hottest teams in the country. We’re not going to let one game set us back,” said forward Alex Karaban, who scored 10 points.
Marquette, the top seed in this tournament for the first time, has won eight in a row for the first time since the 2018-19 season.
Kolek, Joplin and Golden Eagles starting forward Oso Ighodaro were all sitting with four fouls for a while before getting back in the game with a little more than two minutes remaining.
Marquette didn’t score for the final 3 1/2 minutes, but still managed to hang on.
“It’s a testament to the depth that we have on our team,” Smart said. “These guys, if you cut them open, you’ll find inside them championship DNA.”
Hawkins, averaging 16.5 points per game, was held to five on 2-for-11 shooting – including 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.
“That was the defensive key to the game,” Smart said.
Joey Calcaterra had a good look for UConn at a potential go-ahead 3 from the corner with 41 seconds left, but it bounced off the rim.
“It felt like a Sweet 16 type of game, Elite Eight type of game,” Hurley said. “We’re going to get our minds right very quickly and get ready to make a run next week.”
When the Huskies trimmed a 10-point deficit to four in the second half, a screaming, fired-up Hurley came flying onto the court at a timeout, waving his arms to urge on rocking UConn fans.
Jones was jawing nose-to-nose with Sanogo right in the middle of Connecticut’s forming huddle before an official came zipping in to break it up.
UConn tied it at 60 on a 3 by Calcaterra with 9:22 left, and again at 64 on Karaban’s putback with 6:34 to go.
Chase Ross drained a tiebreaking 3 for Marquette with 6:13 to play, and the Huskies never pulled even again.
Kolek, the Big East Player of the Year, had 14 points and four assists in a first half that featured eight lead changes and four ties.
The teams went into the break even at 38-all.
“This is going to be rough,” Hurley said. “It’s going to be a really terrible mental and emotional hangover I would imagine until Sunday.”
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