Marquette looked like a nice team in mid-December. They look like a scary team in late January. With mid-February’s win over Xavier, Marquette now have the inside track to the Big East Championship. The Golden Eagles are now alone in first place in the powerhouse conference.
While it’s easy to be prisoner of the moment, I am not sure Marquette wins vs. Xavier if not for an earlier victory at Villanova in December.
Marquette’s trajectory changed with first down-to-wire win
Marquette had four losses, all by five points or less. MU hadn’t won a game by five or less, heck, even a game decided by single digits. The Golden Eagles didn’t know how to win a close game. It’s not all that surprising, considering Marquette is one of the youngest teams in college basketball, being 303rd – out of 317 D-I teams – in experience.
Finding a way to win a close game is paramount for a young team. It’s such a confidence boost when you find a way to win a tight game.
Conversely, if you can’t find ways to win, it can get in your head a bit. Here’s a breakdown of Marquette’s early losses.
- at Purdue: Marquette saw a 9-point lead evaporate late. Purdue defeated Marquette 75-70.
- Mississippi St., Marquette lost a grinder of a game to the Bulldogs in the Fort Myers Tip-Off at a neutral site, 58-55.
- In an in-state rivalry battle, Marquette battled back to fore overtime, but fell to the Badgers 83-80 in OT.
- A double-overtime loss to Providence was a heartbreaker as the Golden Eagles had many chances to win before falling 103-98.
Marquette changes season course
The Golden Eagles finally broke through on New Year’s Eve with a win at Villanova for a second straight year.
It was a narrow win, 68-66. A missed free throw allowed Villanova a chance to win the game, but Marquette held on and escaped victorious.
Since 2013-14, Villanova has lost three Big East games total at the Pavilion.
Shaka Smart and Marquette own two of those victories.
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) December 31, 2022
Since then, the Golden Eagles have been on a terror in Big East play. The narrow win put Marquette at 3-1 in Big East play and you could see the confidence swell in the Golden Eagles. They conquered the burden of not winning a close game. You could see in the reaction after Nova’s shot at the buzzer went begging.
FINAL: Marquette 68, Villanova 66
Make that two straight CLUTCH wins for #mubb at the Finn.
And some Happy-learns-to-put energy for those close games for MU this season.
— Ben Steele (@BenSteeleMJS) December 31, 2022
On Wednesday, Marquette found themselves in another one-possession game. The Golden Eagles were down 3 with a minute left, but didn’t panic. If they still hadn’t pulled out a nailbiter? Who knows. Olivier Maxence-Prosper’s tip-in with under two seconds left lifted the Golden Eagles to a 69-68 win over the Musketeers. Marquette has gained comfort in close games, but just 10 of its 27 games have been decided by single digits, going 5-5 in such games.
No. 11 Marquette taps it in for the win over No. 16 Xavier 🚨🙌 pic.twitter.com/GEc9AyXC7i
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 16, 2023
Marquette now comfortable in tight games
Wednesday’s win puts Shaka Smart and Marquette puts in the driver’s seat and can be traced back to the win at Nova. Marquette actually didn’t have any wins by single digits until Nova. Now, they are finding ways to win those games. With the Xavier win, Marquette has now won 5 of its last 6 games – UConn, Providence, Villanova, Butler and Xavier – decided by single digits after losing the first four of the season.
While the Xavier win on its own is good, I am not sure they get that done and are sitting alone atop the conference in mid-February if they couldn’t squeak out the December win at Nova.
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