Marquette kept its NCAA tournament hopes alive and helped honor retiring University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild with a 73-64 win over Seton Hall Saturday night.
The Golden Eagles (16-11, 7-7 Big East) had five players score in double digits with senior forward Jimmy Butler leading the way with 16 points. As a team, Marquette shot 55.1 percent, its third-highest mark of the season.
Redshirt sophomore center Chris Otule set the tone for Marquette’s post play early in the game with a Big East career-high 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half.
When Otule fell into foul trouble in the second half, junior forward Jae Crowder and freshman forward Davante Gardner stepped their game up to combine for 12 points and nine rebounds in his absence.
Coach Buzz Williams was particularly impressed with Gardner’s seven points and six rebounds in the 11 minutes he played, as well as his team’s ability to finally make the big plays it needed down the stretch.
“I thought we made more winning plays than we’ve been making,” Williams said. “I felt that Davante really was the swing vote in the second half.”
The Golden Eagles finished with 44 points in the paint to Seton Hall’s 28 and outrebounded the Pirates 40-22.
The Pirates (11-16, 5-10 Big East) have hung in with the top teams in the Big East, thanks mostly to senior guard Jeremy Hazell. Though Hazell picked up 23 points, his team fell short of a conference win for the fourth time in its last five attempts.
Marquette’s post players were also able to shut down Seton Hall’s top big man, junior forward Herb Pope, limiting him to six points and only two rebounds. Pope fouled out of the game for the seventh time this season with 6:47 left to play.
Coach Kevin Willard tried to switch things up defensively, hoping the Golden Eagles would struggle like they did in a 59-58 win over South Florida against a man-to-man scheme.
“I didn’t want to play so much zone,” Willard said. “We tried to play man-to-man, but we just don’t have the numbers right now.”
Senior forward Jeff Robinson hit a jumper with 5:04 left in the first half to give Seton Hall a 29-24 lead, but Marquette fought back and entered halftime with a 36-32 lead thanks to a last-second drive and layup by Crowder.
The Golden Eagles took a 66-50 lead, their largest of the game, when Butler hit two free throws with 5:01 left in the second half to cap an 18-5 run. Hazell quickly narrowed the deficit to 10 after three-pointers on consecutive possessions, but Marquette capitalized on its remaining free throws to close out the game.
Crowder saw the win as the next step for the Golden Eagles to finish the season in stride and build momentum for the Big East tournament.
“During this time we’re just trying to string them together heading into the tournament,” Crowder said. “We’re playing with our backs against the wall.”
The next step up the ladder is a road trip to Connecticut this Thursday, where Marquette will try to upset the No. 13/12 Huskies.