LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY (TICKER) —Dwyane Wade again showed why he is a leading Player of the Year candidate.
Wade scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half and added seven rebounds and seven assists as 11th-ranked Marquette rallied from a 19-point deficit to defeat No. 9 Louisville, 78-73, and clinch a share of the Conference USA American Division.
“We are trying to trap him and he takes them on very well,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of Wade. “He’s a great basketball player.”
Scott Merritt added 18 points and Travis Diener 16 for the Golden Eagles (21-4, 12-2 C-USA), who opened a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Cardinals (19-5, 9-4). Marquette will share the title only if it loses its final two contests and Louisville wins its final three.
Paced by 17 points from freshman Francisco Garcia, Louisville led, 42-23, with four minutes remaining in the first half before Marquette closed to 46-35 at the break.
Marquette carried its late momentum into the second half, and Wade made a short banker to give his team the lead for good, 66-65, with 7:23 remaining. The shot commenced an 8-2 mini-run, which was capped by a 3-pointer by Diener with 4:35 left that gave the Golden Eagles their biggest lead at 72-67.
After Wade made 1-of-2 free throws to make it 76-73, Reece Gaines - whose late 3-pointer gave the Cardinals a 73-70 triumph at Marquette 12 days ago - attempted a tying shot from the arc with 11 seconds left. But it rimmed out, Diener grabbed the rebound and iced the game with two free throws.
“Much like the first game, both teams played extremely hard,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “I’m proud the way my players hung in there the entire game.”
It was Marquette’s 14th victory in its last 15 contests.
Garcia scored a season high-tying 24 points and Garcia and Ellis Myles 12 apiece for suddenly slumping Louisville, which has lost three in a row and four of five.
Myles, who also pulled down 11 rebounds, left the game with 1:15 to play after landing awkwardly on a follow shot. He cried in agony on the sideline and was taken off the court on a stretcher.
“It was another real good game but we are concerned about Ellis,” Pitino said. “Every time I see an injury like that, it’s probably an ACL.”
Louisville struggled from the line, making only half of its 30 attempts. Myles went just 4-of-11 from the stripe and center Marvin Stone was 4-of-9. Marquette went 21-of-29.
“We would have controlled our destiny if we made our free throws,” Pitino said. “But give them credit, they made their free throws.”
“We expected their best shot,” Crean said. “They had time to prepare, as did we, but coming off those two losses, we knew they would be ready. They have great players in their program and we knew we would see a great effort. We knew things would eventually go our way as long as we stuck with our game plan. “