It was neither Koby McEwen nor Theo John’s finest game on Saturday afternoon. Marquette’s only two returning starters from last year combined for 13 points on just 5 of 17 shooting. However, in a game they could not afford to lose, both seniors came through when Marquette needed them the most.
Tied at 71 with 45 seconds left, the Golden Eagles were in danger of seeing yet another double-digit lead turn into a loss. Instead, a high-arching layup from McEwen and an emphatic block from John kept Marquette (8-6, 4-4 Big East) from falling to the bottom of the Big East standings with a 73-71 win at St. John’s (7-7, 2-6).
The seniors’ late heroics made sure that an impressive showing from Marquette’s three newcomers didn’t go to waste. Freshmen Dawson Garcia and Justin Lewis along with sophomore D.J. Carton combined for 38 points in the victory.
Junior guard Greg Elliott also added 13 points off the bench for Marquette.
For the third consecutive game, the Golden Eagles were able to jump out to a double-digit lead in the first half. Also for the third consecutive game, the Golden Eagles saw their double-digit lead disappear in the second half.
Looking for its first win at St. John’s since 2016, Marquette got off to an ominous start. St. John’s guard Greg Williams Jr. opened the game with a pair of made threes in the first 90 seconds to give the Red Storm a 6-0 lead.
The Golden Eagles responded quickly, ripping off a 14-2 run to take control of the game. The Red Storm fought back and pulled within one with nine minutes left in the first half. Once again, Marquette had a response. A three by Elliott and a three-point-play from Garcia sparked an 8-1 run to stay in command.
McEwen struggled throughout the first half, finishing with just three points at the break. But after driving against the St. John’s defense, he was able to find a wide open Elliot for a three to beat the halftime buzzer and give Marquette a 41-30 halftime lead.
The 11-point lead would be Marquette’s largest of the game.
The Golden Eagles were able to hold their large lead for the opening five minutes of the second half. A fastbreak dunk by Carton put Marquette up 51-41 with 15 minutes left. The game was close to getting out of reach for the Red Storm.
Instead, Julian Champagnie flipped the game on its head. The Red Storm sophomore scored 12 points in a 105 second span, turning Marquette’s 10-point lead into a two-point deficit. Any hopes of a stress-free road win were dashed.
Down the stretch of the game, the two teams continuously traded baskets. Marquette was able to build a five-point lead on multiple occasions, but St. John’s had an answer each time. With just under three minutes left, Champagnie’s fifth and final made three-pointer knotted the game at 69.
From there, a combination of strong defense and miscues took over the game. McEwen shuffled his feet on a ball screen handoff and was called for traveling. Lewis swatted away a layup from the Red Storm. Carton gave Marquette a 71-69 lead on a jumper with 1:51 left, but St. John’s responded with one of its own seven seconds later.
John had a chance to give Marquette the lead again with just over a minute left, but he was stripped while going up for a layup. Champagnie then tried to be the hero, taking an ill-advised stepback jumper that didn’t come close to going in.
McEwen was able to grab the rebound, and on the ensuing possession he found himself in isolation at the top of the key against the smaller freshman Alexander Posh. The senior drove past the freshman and banked in a high-arching layup to give Marquette a 73-71 lead with 27 second left.
The Red Storm called their final timeout to try and set up a play. But coming out of the timeout, their guards held onto the ball and didn’t try to run any offense until there was under 10 seconds left. They then rushed their attempt to tie the game which led to Vince Cole driving to the hoop where all five Marquette players were waiting for him.
Cole tried to throw up a layup to tie the game, but John swatted the attempt out of bounds almost immediately after it left his hand.
The Red Storm had one last shot with 1.5 seconds left to tie or win the game. Steve Wojciechowski opted not to use his final timeout to set up his defense. Champagnie had a shot to win from the corner, but McEwen’s defense led the shot to be off target and fall harmlessly off the side of the rim as time expired.
Once again, Marquette escaped with a road win.
They Said It
“Just having that healthy relationship of having trust creates less things to worry about on the court. When you and your coach have trust in each other, it makes things way more easy and smoother.” – D.J. Carton on his relationship with Coach Wojciechowski.
“It looked like he kind of got in my bag a little bit for that one.” Carton on McEwen’s game-winner.
“I thought our guys showed great toughness and resolve. In this league, it’s obvious that teams are going to punch back.” – Steve Wojciechowski on his team’s response after blowin the 11-point lead.
“They play a very unusual style in today’s college basketball with their constant pressing. They don’t really allow you to run plays, so you have to make plays.” – Wojciechowski on what makes St. John’s such a tough opponent.
What It Means
This was an absolute must-win game for Marquette.
The Golden Eagles were in danger of seeing this season go off the rails following the loss to UConn last Tuesday. Instead, they weathered two challenges from two tough opponents to stay in the top half of the conference standings. Had Marquette lost this game, it would have been a very bad blemish on a resume with no terrible losses yet.
Blowing yet another big lead continues to be concerning, but the resolve to pull out the win once again was impressive. With so many new roles and pieces on this team, having so many close games is invaluable. As they prepare for March, the Golden Eagles have shown that they have multiple options to go to when they need a basket. They have also shown that they can get big defensive stops from both their interior and perimeter players.
Marquette is not close to the NCAA Tournament bubble at the moment. But by avoiding losses to teams in the bottom half of the conference standings, it keeps them in contention if they can get big wins later in the season.
There was plenty of concern that this team would fall apart given the nature of its collapse against UConn. But with a pair of tough victories over Providence and St. John’s this week, Marquette has kept itself in contention with plenty of opportunities ahead.
Marquette’s upcoming schedule is very enticing.
The Golden Eagles were supposed to rematch with Georgetown this week but the game is already canceled. The Hoyas have paused all basketball activities due to issues with Covid-19.
With a replacement game appearing unlikely at this point, Marquette will not play again until next Saturday. The Golden Eagles will host DePaul (2-4, 0-4) next Saturday and then play at Providence (7-6, 3-4) the following Wednesday.
Marquette’s next three games are against teams with losing records in Big East play. If the Golden Eagles can continue to pull out wins, they would be hosting No. 8 Creighton on February 6 on a five-game winning streak with a chance to make their resume NCAA Tournament-quality.