Marquette lets WVU game do the talking
Eagles won't need to plead Dance case after bumping Mounties from Big East tourney
NEW YORK -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams doesn't have to plead his case anymore. The Golden Eagles' résumé speaks for itself.
Marquette likely sealed a bid to the Big Dance with a 67-61 upset win over sixth-seeded West Virginia in the second round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday night.
The Golden Eagles, seeded 11th, held the defending conference champs to just 22 percent shooting in the second half and outscored them 13-6 in the final 5:50 to grind out the win.
Marquette (20-13) will face No. 3 seed and 14th-ranked Louisville on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in the conference quarterfinals.Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comMarquette likely punched its Big Dance ticket with Wednesday's victory over West Virginia.
Williams joked that he was "looking for someone on the selection committee" to plead his team's case to prior to Wednesday's game. Some thought the Golden Eagles were on the bubble after they finished the regular season with losses to Cincinnati and Seton Hall.
"You get so caught up in the melodrama of what happens during this time of year," Williams said. "I think the best thing is to continue to win."
Marquette did just that, topping Providence and the Mountaineers on successive days. The Golden Eagles now are likely to join the record 11-team contingent from the Big East in the Big Dance.
But they didn't look like a lock early in the second half.
Marquette trailed West Virginia (20-11) by 10 with 17:45 to play but methodically chipped away at the lead. It capped off a 22-10 run with Jae Crowder's 3-pointer at the 10:18 mark to go up 53-51.
After the teams traded free throws for the next 5:32, Darius Johnson-Odom broke up the parade to the line with a 3-pointer with 4:46 to play, giving Marquette a 58-55 lead.
Johnson-Odom hit another 3-pointer with 3:53 to go to give the Golden Eagles a six-point cushion.
Johnson-Odom was 2-of-8 from the field -- including 0-for-3 from beyond the 3-point arc -- before knocking down the biggest shots of the game. From there, Marquette went 4-for-6 from the line to seal the win.
"Those two shots, you could argue, changed the game," Williams said. "Definitely changed the momentum."
They also changed Marquette's March travel itinerary and snapped West Virginia's 11-game March winning streak.
West Virginia is the third straight defending champ to lose in its opening game of the Big East tournament.
The Golden Eagles held the Mountaineers to just six field goals in the second half. "You're not going to win in this league doing that," an ornery WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
Marquette, which has reached the Big East quarters for three straight seasons, will face the same Louisville team that it lost to in a 71-70 soul-crusher on Jan. 15. Louisville rallied from an 18-point deficit in the final 5:44 and Kyle Kuric hit the game-winner with four seconds to play.
"The meltdown [at Louisville] shook us," Williams admitted.
Marquette finished 6-7 in conference play after the loss, leading to question marks about its March Madness credentials.
But with Wednesday night's triumph, all those questions have likely been answered.
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.
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