Xavier stymies Marquette

By Everett Merrill, The Sports Xchange  |  March 11, 2016 at 1:20 AM
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NEW YORK -- The defensive effort that eluded No. 5 Xavier in its final three regular-season games returned in a 90-72 victory over Marquette on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

The Musketeers (27-4) held Marquette to 38.1 percent from the field, forced nine turnovers that led to 15 points and limited them to nine assists. The Musketeers allowed an average of 88.7 points in those final three games, despite going 2-1.

"We kind of strayed away from playing hard defensively," said Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett, who matched his career high with 24 points. "We wanted to make a point of emphasis to get back to the way that we've been defensively at the beginning of the year."

Xavier was also aided by their long distance shooting in the quarterfinal matchup, hitting 11 of 26 from beyond the arc. It marked the second time this season Marquette fell victim to the Musketeers' sharpshooting. They made 13 of 20 in a 90-82 victory over the Golden Eagles on Feb. 6.

Second-seeded Xavier led the entire game Thursday in winning their sixth game in the last seven. It advanced to the semifinals for the second straight year and will face Seton Hall on Friday.

Villanova, the defending tournament champion, squares off against Providence in the other semifinal.

The Musketeers received a balanced scoring attack with forward James Farr and guard J.P. Macura getting 12 points apiece, forward Jalen Reynolds netting 11 and guard Edmond Sumner tossing in 10s.

"I thought our team was a little different than we've been the last couple of weeks," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "We've been making a big point of it in practice.

"The message seemed to be heeded, I thought our guys from the very beginning of the game played really hard defensively."

Junior guard Jajuan Johnson came off the bench to lead the seventh-seeded Golden Eagles (20-13) with 19 points. Freshman star Henry Ellenson was plagued by foul trouble and was limited to 14 points and three rebounds. He played most of the second half with four fouls.

The Musketeers sealed the victory with a 6-0 run in 35 seconds to move ahead 62-35 with 15:04 remaining.

Xavier took command to start the second half. The Musketeers used a 10-3 flurry to move ahead 56-33 during the first 3:30 of the half.

"The biggest thing is that we earned our shots," Mack said. "We made Marquette work longer defensively. We have enough guys on the floor that can make shots and make plays."

Ellenson scored 10 points in the first half but was called for his third foul with 2:45 left.

Xavier held Marquette to 30 points in the first half, it's second-fewest total after Butler scored 29 on Fe. 13.

The Musketeers led 43-27 with 1:15 to play in the first half on the strength of a 15-4 run. Bluiett had seven points in the spurt and finished the half 5 of 7 from the floor with 12 points.

"I didn't feel we played as hard as we could," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "But they (Xavier) are a very difficult team to guard because they can score inside and out.

"I admire the team they have. They were so potent offensively."

Ellenson picked up two quick fouls in the first three minutes and was forced to the bench. When he returned two minutes later, Xavier led 15-7.

NOTES: Since joining the Big East in the 2005-06 season, Marquette is the only program to have reached the quarterfinals of the tournament every year. ... Marquette F Henry Ellenson was named the Big East Freshman of the Year. He collected his 18th double-double of the season in a 101-93 victory over St. John's in Wednesday's opening round. It was the first time the Golden Eagles scored at least 100 points against a conference opponent since joining the Big East. ... Xavier is in the top 10 of the AP poll for the 13th straight week. ... Xavier guard J.P. Macura was named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year. ... Xavier G Trevon Bluiett landed a spot on the All-Big East first team.

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