Jamal Cain waited three years to have a full-time starting role. 11 games in, that role is blossoming into so much more.
The senior forward helped lead Marquette (6-5, 2-3 Big East) back from an 18-point second half deficit with a career-high 25 points. None were more important than his corner three-pointer that essentially sealed a 64-60 victory at Georgetown. With the win, Marquette snapped a three game losing streak.
Cain had plenty of help around him down the stretch. Freshman forward Justin Lewis scored eight of his 10 points in the second half and the team held Georgetown to just six points in the final nine minutes of the game.
The Golden Eagles held the Hoyas to 9-30 shooting in the second half and ended the game on a 27-8 run after trailing 52-37 with 11 minutes left.
“We didn’t dwell on things,” Cain said after the win. “We know basketball is two halves and we didn’t play to our full potential in the first half so we knew we had to bring it for another 20 minutes, and that’s what we did.”
“Our kids showed great resolve to stay with it and to find ways to win.” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said.
Through the first 30 minutes of the game, it appeared as if Marquette was well on its way to dropping its fourth consecutive game ahead of a pivotal week against UConn and No. 4 Villanova.
After jumping out to a quick 9-4 lead to start the game, Marquette’s offense settled for perimeter shots on its next six possessions. None of them fell, and Georgetown went on a 14-0 run behind a balanced attack of its own to take control of the game 10 minutes in.
The Golden Eagles fought throughout the first half to stay within 10 of the Hoyas and had a chance to make it an eight point game again going into the final two minutes of the half with freshman forward Dawson Garcia at the free throw line. Instead, Garcia missed the free throw and it went out of bounds off of junior guard Greg Elliott.
Elliott then argued with the official to no avail and didn’t stop pleading his case until he was given a technical foul. After making both free throws, Georgetown sophomore Qudus Wahab threw down an easy dunk. Followed by a Jahvon Blair three in the final minute to send the Hoyas into halftime with a 36-20 lead.
“We did not get off to the start we wanted to,” Wojciechowski said about the first half. “And a lot of that is a result of how well Georgetown was playing.”
The Golden Eagles shot 8 of 31 in the first half and trailed at the half for the fifth time in their last six games.
After halftime, Marquette’s offense focused on driving the ball into the paint more. The strategy paid dividends immediately, as Marquette opened the half on an 8-3 run and forced Patrick Ewing to call a quick timeout.
With Marquette’s defense still struggling early in the second half, Cain and the offense kept them within striking distance. The Golden Eagles countered each of Georgetown’s first five baskets of the half with one of their own. Holding serve until the defense could produce more stops.
After falling behind 52-37, it was Lewis who sparked the big run. The freshman hit a tough layup while being fouled but missed the free throw. After Georgetown turned the ball over on its ensuing possession, Cain drilled another three-pointer to make it a 10 point game again with 9:14 left.
The Hoyas responded with a tough jumper by Blair. But Cain had the response once again with a quick layup. After calling a timeout, Ewing put his starters back into the game. With four new players on the floor, Marquette’s defense took control.
A travelling violation led to a three-point play from Cain, pulling Marquette within seven points. The defense then forced two tough three-point attempts, both of which missed. Lewis then pulled the Golden Eagles to within five with a layup.
A pair of made free throws from Elliott pulled Marquette within three, and the television cameras caught a telling glimpse of Ewing looking up at the clock and scoreboard with a concerned look on his face. The Hoyas had two more chances to extend their lead again but came up empty both times. On Marquette’s second attempt to pull closer, Lewis drove to the basket for a layup to make it a one point game with 4:09 left.
Things didn’t get any easier for Georgetown from there. The Hoyas turned it over on their next possession and Garcia drew a foul and made both free throws to give Marquette a 57-56 lead, its first since the 14:01 mark of the first half. Another steal by Elliott gave McEwen a chance to extend the lead, but he missed both free throws.
However, once again Elliott was able to come up with a steal, his third in the last 90 seconds. This time Marquette ran its offense through McEwen, who found Garcia for an easy layup to go up three with 2:10 remaining.
The Hoyas had one last push in them, though. Freshman guard Dante Harris, hit a tough runner to pull within one with 1:56 left. Marquette ran the clock down on its next possession and missed a layup. But nobody got back on defense and a long outlet pass from Harris to Wahab led to an open dunk. The dunk Georgetown a 60-59 lead with 1:20 to go.
Wojciechowski called a timeout on the next possession and subbed DJ Carton in for McEwen. The move immediately paid off, with Carton giving Marquette the lead again with a running jumper. On the ensuing possession, Cain intercepted a bad pass and let Carton run more clock. With the shot clock winding down, Carton drove to the paint and found Cain open in the corner. A quick pass and shot put Marquette up 64-60 with 15 seconds left.
Unlike Marquette’s previous road loss, there were no last-second heroics from Georgetown on Saturday night.
After the game, the postgame celebration was rather subdued at first. It soon turned rowdy once Wojciechowski returned to the locker room, with the entire team mobbing him.
Wojciechowski’s halftime adjustment proved pivotal. Marquette outscored Georgetown in the paint 26-12 in the second half. Marquette’s comeback was also aided by 15 points off turnovers and 12 second-chance points in the half. Georgetown had just two points off turnovers and three second-chance points.
“I’m not sure it was anything I said,” Wojciechowski said about the second half resurgence. “It was more of them deciding that we needed to step it up and I give them full and complete credit for answering the call.”
Cain’s 25 points were a career best, topping a 17 point performance against Kansas State last December.
“I’ve just been doing whatever my players want me to do,” Cain said. “Nothing has really changed, I’ve just been more aggressive lately.”
“Jamal was great,” Wojciechowski said. “And that’s exactly what you would want your senior to do. From the tip to the buzzer, he was terrific throughout. When you’re struggling, when you’re against the ropes like we were, you need your veterans to step up and Jamal certainly did that.”
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