Updated: Mar 11
Matt St. Jean and Tommy Godin will add their live thoughts from the tournament all day, so check back here for updates!
Matt St. Jean: Welcome back to Madison Square Garden. This is the best day of the year. As Greg McDermott said yesterday, "You'll be operating a little bit on adrenaline tomorrow night, but you're also playing in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament in the greatest arena in the world. If you can't get yourself ready for that, you've got problems." The environment should be electric tonight, and we'll get to watch the top four teams in the Big East battle with a spot in the championship on the line. First up, a battle between the regular season conference champs in Marquette and the de facto non-conference champs in UConn. Then, Creighton looks to stay perfect on Friday of the Big East Tournament while Xavier looks to make the championship for the first time in the first year of Sean Miller's second stint with the team. Your guess is as good as mine as to what happens; I'm just looking forward to the drama. -4:43pm
Tommy Godin: In his book 'Attitude', Jay Wright calls the Friday at the Big East Tournament his favorite day of the whole event. This is my first year working this event, but in the couple hours I have been here so far, I can understand his sentiment.
Up first, we have a matchup that many believe could be the de facto championship game. I am one of those people, and I believe whoever wins this one will go on to win the whole tournament. We'll get into that later.
What I am looking for most in this one is going to be how Marquette handles the UConn frontcourt. BIG EAST preseason Player of the Year Adama Sanogo and 7'2" freshman phenom Donovan Clingan are a powerful 1-2 punch for any team to handle, nevertheless a Marquette team who struggles with interior defense.
On the other end, regular season Player of the Year Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones make up one of the most lethal backcourts in the entire country. UConn's defense is elite and has been on another level of late, but Ed Cooley and the Providence Friars may have shown the rest of the conference yesterday that while they are a force to be reckoned with, they are also certainly exploitable.
It is semi-final Friday at the world's most famous arena. Let's do this. -6:13pm
Matt St. Jean: Didn't take long to get the energy up in here. UConn went for the alley-oop to Andre Jackson on the opening sequence, and Oso Ighodaro got a slam to open the scoring at the other end. This could be a championship game with the environment. -6:36pm
Tommy Godin: It took up until the 11:34 mark of the first half for the UConn faithful to let out their first collective roar, thanks to a Naheim Alleyne deep ball, his second made shot in a row. A Tyler Kolek connection from deep would awaken the Marquette fans on the other end. The feeling out process is over, and the offenses are getting comfortable. This one is going to be good. -7:00pm
Tommy Godin: We hit the under eight media timeout and we got a good one brewing. I mentioned it in the open, but 16 of UConn's 24 points have come in the paint. They hold a three point advantage that will only grow if Marquette doesn't bear down inside. -7:02pm
Matt St. Jean: Oh yeah. This one is living up to the billing. Neither team was able to put together a significant run in the first half, and neither team could create space from the other. We're all tied up thanks to that Alex Karaban three that sent the Husky faithful into a frenzy. The leading scorers? Tyler Kolek, the Big East Player of the Year, and Adama Sanogo, the preseason Big East Player of the Year. The two best players on the floor are playing just like it. The second half should be amazing, and I won't be shocked if we end up playing more than twenty more minutes.
For Marquette, I'm looking to see if Shaka Smart draws up more ball pressure. UConn has only turned it over five times after losing it 18 times against Providence yesterday.
For UConn, I'm keeping my eyes on Jordan Hawkins. He has yet to find his groove, but I can't imagine that lasting too much longer. -7:30pm
Tommy Godin: Annnnd here come the Golden Eagles! Marquette has opened the second half on a 10-4 run and opened a six point advantage. We will see how long this run lasts, but not a great sign coming out of the locker room for Dan Hurley's Huskies -7:50pm
Matt St. Jean: This is an incredible chess match between Dan Hurley and Shaka Smart. Hurley is trying to figure out a defense that will work, and it seems like he might have an answer in the zone. His players did have some issues finding their spots on the floor out of the 2-1-2 press, though. Marquette got up to a 10-point lead, but UConn has cut it down to 4. And now we've got some tensions building between the teams after that sequence. Looked like Dan Hurley and Kam Jones were getting into it there. Getting spicy inside MSG, and the crowd is matching that energy. -8:08pm
Tommy Godin: Donovan Clingan has been EVERYWHERE for the Huskies recently. UConn has repeatedly gone to him in the post and it seems to be working. It really opens up the floor for the other guys too. Matt said it earlier, but Jordan Hawkins has been quiet. Tooooo quiet. Look for that to change, but as it stands right now, Marquette has a three point advantage by way of a Kam Jones 30-foot shot clock buzzer beating heave. Donovan Clingan will head to the line after the media timeout with a chance to cut the lead to one. 8:20pm
Matt St. Jean: 2:14 to play. Marquette leads 70 to 68. Jordan Hawkins has been held to just 1-of-7 from deep, and this crowd is just waiting for him to sink one. Marquette has outshot UConn from deep, thanks in large part to finding the holes in the zone defense. The Golden Eagles have gotten good looks from the corner because UConn has to take away the paint, and they've hit quite a few of them.
Tyler Kolek, Oso Ighodaro, and David Joplin are all on their last foul, so we'll see if the Huskies attack them at the defensive end. Should be a wild finish. 8:33pm
Tommy Godin: The Marquette Golden Eagles are going to the BIG EAST Championship for the first time in program history!
Wow what a game. Marquette's defense down the stretch was outstanding. The Golden Eagles went the last 3:42 of regulation without point and still came away victorious.
The energy in this building in unmatched. There is no atmosphere like it in basketball at any level. We have one more game of this after? I never want this to end. Big East forever!!! -8:41pm
Tommy Godin: Sorry for the time gap, Matt and I were in the Marquette locker room and team press conferences while the Xavier/Creighton game started.
As it stands, Xavier has a four point advantage with thirteen minutes and change to go in the first half, but Baylor Scheierman just connected on a three to give the Bluejays some momentum and close the gap to one.
Looking back on stats, it appears Creighton got off to a hot start, but Xavier bounced back nicely. The Bluejays will need to rely heavily on the support of their extremely well traveled fanbase for this one, as they did not finish their game last night until past midnight with all five starters playing over 30 minutes. Depth has always been a concern, but anything can happen in the garden. -9:22
Tommy Godin: That was quick, the Muskies are rolling. Two offensive rebounds lead to a Souley Boum three pointer, his second in as many possessions. The Bluejays are simply getting out-hustled right now. There are fewer Xavier fans here than Creighton, but they are certainly much louder as it stands right now. The Musketeers are on a 12-1 run and lead by 14, one shy of Creighton's point total. -9:43pm
Matt St. Jean: Got to talk to Shaka Smart in the locker room after the win. Here are his full comments:
On defending Jordan Hawkins:
"O-Max Prosper did a phenomenal job all game long. UConn does a great job of running a ton of actions where they're moving him around and bringing him off screens,
and O-Max was so aggressive and so alert and so able to play with multiple efforts. Hawkins is a good player, but we did a good job not letting him get too many open looks."
On the final stretch:
"Just guys continuing to play and, you know, we had some switches there that were necessary. And, you know, at the end, we always talk about having what we call having dot hand up, which is like, you know, the hand that corresponds with the shooting hand to contest. And we did a good job of doing that and made them miss." -9:46pm
Tommy Godin: Halftime. This has been the best half of basketball Xavier has played defensively all year long. Just take a look at these stats:
Impressive stuff. Jack Nunge has been the physical and vocal leader on the defensive end, but it has been Des Claude as the big surprise on the offensive end. On the season, Claude averages just 4.3 points per game, but had a very efficient 8 in the first half alone, including some dazzling moves to get by shifty defenders.
As for the Bluejays, interior defense and turnovers have cost them big time in the first half. Look for Ryan Nembhard to have more of a contribution in the second half. He did all the little things in the first (six assists and five rebounds) but was 0-6 from the field with zero points. Creighton is going to have to flip a switch and flip it fast if they want to play for the conference championship tomorrow. -10:17pm
Matt St. Jean: Hey Tommy, I might have our theme of the night. May I present "regretful quotes." First, Dan Hurley commented that "We own MSG" on Big East Shootaround following the win over Providence on Thursday. Marquette definitely heard those comments and made the Huskies eat them.
Next, after defeating Villanova, Greg McDermott commented that, "If you can't get yourself ready for that, you've got problems" in reference to tonight's game and the lack of rest. Well, Creighton came out flat, falling behind by 14 in the first half. I guess that means Creighton's got problems. -10:35pm
Tommy Godin: Pretty even second half, with Xavier holding a three point advantage on that front. Fortunately for them, that increased their lead from 15 to 18. With a tick under eleven minutes to go, the Bluejays would need a 2018 Providence or 2022 Villanova type run to head back to the championship. The starting five has the talent, may just be too little too late. 10:45pm
Tommy Godin: 20 point lead, three minutes to go, this one's over. Xavier by TKO. What a performance by Sean Miller and his guys. There are a lot of storylines in that one that Matt and I will spend the next twelve hours cooking up, but the bottom line is we will have a new first-time champion in the BIG EAST by this time tomorrow. 11:08pm
Matt St. Jean: This one is over. Creighton is going to lose on Friday of the Big East Tournament for the first time, and Xavier controlled this one basically wire to wire. Impressive stuff from the Musketeers as the Creighton fans are headed for the exits. We'll see where the Bluejays fall on Selection Sunday. -11:09pm
Matt St. Jean: Signing off from the Garden on a Friday night. We'll be back here tomorrow. Here's the show. -1:35am