GAME NOTES: The last quarterfinal round contest of the Big East Conference Tournament will conclude with a matchup featuring the sixth-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles taking on the third-seeded Xavier Musketeers at Madison Square Garden.
The winner of this game will advance to the semifinal round to play either DePaul or Creighton.
Marquette backed into the Big East Tournament having lost its last three regular season games, including a season-finale double-overtime loss to St. John's on Saturday, 91-90. The Golden Eagles finished the year with a 9-9 conference record.
Xavier's success at the end of the season (or lack thereof) was almost comparable to Marquette's. The Musketeers dropped their last two games of the schedule, and lost three of their last five overall, including a 77-70 defeat at the hands of Villanova last Thursday.
Marquette has a comfortable lead in the all-time series with Xavier, 47-16. But the two squads split the season series, with Xavier taking the earlier matchup in Cincinnati, and Marquette getting the victory in Milwaukee.
Marquette and St. John's hung together for nearly 50 minutes of play on Saturday, but it was a single free throw that made the difference for the Red Storm. Rysheed Jordan netted one of his two free-throw attempts with 19 seconds left in the second extra period to give St. John's the one-point victory. Davante Gardner scored 21 points to pace the Golden Eagles, while Todd Mayo chipped in 20 points of his own. Jamil Wilson scored 15 with seven rebounds and five assists, Jake Thomas added 14 points and Deonte Burton contributed 19 with five rebounds in the loss.
Gardner has been the go-to guy for Marquette, netting 15.1 ppg on 52.5 percent shooting from the floor. The big man's 5.7 rpg average is second on the team behind only Jamil Wilson's 5.9 rpg mark. Wilson chips in 11.9 ppg in the scoring department, while Mayo contributes 11 ppg. Derrick Wilson tops the Golden Eagles with 130 assists on the season. Marquette is averaging 72.4 ppg entering the tournament, and is giving up just 68.7 ppg to opponents.
Xavier held an early lead against Villanova, which ranked sixth in the nation last Thursday and is now the Big East's top seed in the postseason, running to a quick 7-0 advantage. But the Wildcats proved it was just a rocky start and not a trend, as they came back to grab the lead and take a five-point advantage into the intermission. They added two more points onto that lead in the second half to earn the seven-point victory. Justin Martin scored 20 points to lead Xavier, adding six rebounds and a perfect 7-of-7 from the free- throw line to his resume. Semaj Christon netted 18 points with six assists, and Isaiah Philmore chipped in 15 points in the loss.
Christon has played a huge role in helping his Musketeers to the third seed in the conference tournament. The guard is netting 17 ppg for Xavier, which scores 72.2 ppg as a unit in 31 games played. Christon contributed 127 assists in the regular season, which was second on the team behind Dee Davis' 141 total helpers. Martin checks in at 11.5 ppg, and center Matt Stainbrook (questionable to play with a strained MCL) adds 10.6 ppg with a team-leading 7.8 rpg mark. The Musketeers are giving up just 67.5 ppg to their opponents on the year.
Neither team finished the season on a high note, but Xavier gets the higher seed because of its greater body of work. The Musketeers and Golden Eagles are far from home at MSG. Xavier's balanced lineup should be plenty to push past Marquette and into the semifinal round.
Game Date and Time