Welcome to Marquette lore, Vander Blue.
Courtesy of the Madison, Wis. native’s acrobatic layup as time expired, the 15th-ranked Golden Eagles (23-7, 14-4) clinched a share of their first-ever Big East title as they defeated the Red Storm of St. John’s, 69-67, in overtime at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon.
Pegged to finish seventh in the preseason coaches’ poll, MU’s dramatic victory puts a cherry on top of one the most unforgettable seasons in the program’s recent history.
Blue, who net a team-high 16 points, accounted for the final four points for the Golden Eagles in overtime, while chipping in with five rebounds, three assists and two steals in 40 minutes of court time.
Junior forward Jamil Wilson added 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench, while Davante Gardner, who entered the weekend with nine combined points over the blue and gold’s past two outings, pumped in 10 points.
Winners in eight of their past 10 outings, Marquette, who shot 43.5 percent from the field on the afternoon, enters next week’s Big East tournament as one of four clubs with a coveted double bye and, with the NCAA tournament less than two weeks away, are hitting their stride as just the right time.
While jubilation was the prominent emotion on the Marquette sideline following Blue’s game-winning basket, MU nearly endured a long week of “what-ifs” upon squandering a late second-half lead.
Holding a 28-25 edge at intermission, Marquette, whose 28 wins in league play over the past two seasons are tied with Syracuse by the most among conference affiliates, stretched its lead to 41-27 with 17:09 to play on the heels of an 11-4 run to open the second half.
Over the subsequent 10 plus minutes, however, the Marquette offense went stone cold—and the Red Storm (16-14, 8-10) took advantage.
Buoyed by the 13 combined points from Jakarr Sampson and Phil Greene IV, who scored a game-high 20 points, Steve Lavin’s club pulled to within 50-46 with 7:17 on the clock.
Marquette, as has been the prevailing ethos over the course of the past four months, though, responded in kind.
Kick started via a layup by Gardner, the Golden Eagles, who won the rebounding battle with St. John’s, 48-39, in convincing fashion, connected on four of their subsequent five shots to stake a 60-51 advantage with 4:03 on the clock.
MU would maintain its nine-point edge with 1:53 to play, when St. John’s—pardon the pun—came storming back.
Headlined by a trio of layups, punctuated by Jamal Branch’s with 28 ticks remaining, the Red Storm knotted the affair at 63 apiece to send the game into overtime.
Marking the fourth overtime contest for MU this season (the first since falling to Cincinnati on Jan. 19), Buzz Williams’ crew opened the extra frame misfiring on four of their first five attempts; however, the fighting Lou Carnessecca’s proved to be just as ineffective on the offensive side of the ball to the tune of a 2-of-7 showing from the field.
With the score tied 67-67 following a layup by Blue with 49 seconds left in the period, the Red Storm, who shot 41.7 percent en route to dropping their fourth straight game, missed a pair of jumpers on their final possession to set up Blue’s heroics.
Upon the union of nylon, leather and the final buzzer, Marquette laid claim to its third conference title (shared or outright) in school history and first since the 2002-03 campaign, as a member of Conference USA.
As far as omens go, one could do worse than the knowledge that the aforesaid Marquette squad of a decade ago parlayed their first-place finish into a run to the NCAA Final Four.
While the ending of the fifth season of the Buzz Williams remains to be seen, the Golden Eagles return to action on Thursday in the Big East tournament quarterfinals at the Garden.