MILWAUKEE (AP)—With one of its top point producers wearing street clothes and a brace on his hand, Marquette needed another scorer to help pull out of its recent nose dive with an upset victory.
Along came freshman David Cubillan, who scored a season-high 20 points and almost single-handedly prevented the Golden Eagles from blowing what had been shaping up as an easy win.
Cubillan hit a key 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining, then went 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final minute as No. 20 Marquette held off No. 12 Pittsburgh for a 75-71 victory on Saturday night.
“He was huge tonight, and he’s going to have to continue to remain that way,” said Wesley Matthews, who also scored 20 for Marquette.
Marquette (23-8, 10-6 Big East) came into the game shaky and short-handed, but looked more athletic and energetic than Pittsburgh from the opening tip— until the Panthers nearly stole the game with a late rally.
The Golden Eagles remained in the Top 25 this week despite losing four of their past five games. And Marquette was forced to play without guard Jerel McNeal on Saturday, their second-leading scorer. McNeal sat out with a cast on his right hand and thumb protecting a previously undisclosed injury.
Given the adversity, Marquette coach Tom Crean said the victory was huge for his team.
“Without sounding corny, this is one of those days they will never forget,” Crean said.
A win would have given Pittsburgh (25-6, 12-4 Big East) a share of the Big East regular-season title. Earlier in the day, No. 9 Georgetown clinched at least a share of the conference championship with a 59-46 victory over Connecticut.
“The game was very disappointing,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “Everything was in place for us to get a piece of the Big East title, but we couldn’t get it done tonight. We didn’t play well enough to win.”
The Golden Eagles led by 17 in the second half, but Pittsburgh rallied with a 15-4 run.
Pittsburgh’s Sam Young later cut the lead to four with two free throws, but Marquette freshman David Cubillan responded with his fourth 3-pointer of the game to put the Golden Eagles ahead 64-57 with 1:40 remaining.
Cubillan then hit all eight free throws in the final minute.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Cubillan said. “We shoot free throws in practice all the time.”
Marquette hit 11 of 12 overall from the line down the stretch to stave off a final comeback attempt by Pittsburgh that included a three-point play and putback basket by center Aaron Gray and a desperation 3-pointer by Young in the final 31.4 seconds.
“We dug ourselves too deep of hole,” Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields said. “We should have played a little bit better earlier. We had a good opportunity for the Big East title, but we fell short.”
Marquette held Gray, the Panthers’ leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, in check in the first half. But Gray scored 14 points in the second half to lead Pittsburgh with 18.
Gray also had a team-high 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season.
“There’s points in the game where we are one of the top five teams in the country,” Gray said. “And there are lapses in each game where we are one of the five bottom teams in the Big East. We just have to minimize those lapses and put together a complete game.”
Mike Cook added 13 for Pittsburgh. Ousmane Barro scored 10 points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for Marquette.
Crean wouldn’t speculate on the severity of McNeal’s injury and his availability for the upcoming Big East tournament is unclear. The Golden Eagles got another injury scare when guard Dominic James left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury midway through the second half. James played only sporadically the rest of the way, but Crean said it was just a cramping issue.
Coming into Saturday night’s game, the Panthers had held 14 of 15 conference opponents under 70 points. Marquette remains the only Big East team to break the 70-point barrier against the Panthers, but needed overtime to do so the first time. The Golden Eagles defeated the Panthers 77-74 in overtime Jan. 21.
Marquette led 43-30 at halftime, holding Pittsburgh to 35.5 percent shooting — and Gray to only three shots and four points—with an effective zone defense.
The Golden Eagles hit five of 10 3-point attempts—including 2 of 3 by little-used senior center Mike Kinsella, who had scored only three points all season and hadn’t attempted a 3-pointer in his college career.
Matthews said Kinsella hits those shots in practice all the time.
“Everybody was excited,” Matthews said. “The bench was jumping around, the crowd was getting excited.”