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Marquette gets share of first Big East title

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Marquette earned a share of its first Big East Conference title on Saturday, but it took high drama to accomplish it.

Vander Blue's floating layup in the lane as time expired in overtime provided No. 15 Marquette with a 69-67 victory over St. John's before 12,474 at Madison Square Garden.

Blue led the Golden Eagles with 16 points and Jamil Wilson contributed 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Wilson has scored in double figures in nine of his last 10 games.

Marquette (23-7, 14-4 Big East) finished in a three-way tie with Georgetown and Louisville for the regular season conference title. It enters the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning eight of its last 11 games.

One of the surprising teams in the conference, the Golden Eagles return to Madison Square next week as a quarterfinalist, having received a double-bye.

In its seven years in the Big East, Marquette has never won the conference tournament.

Coach Buzz Williams' team was selected to finish seventh in the conference in the preseason coaches' poll.

The Red Storm had two chances to move ahead in overtime, but Felix Balamou missed a jumper with 23 seconds left and Phil Greene IV, who scored 20 points, could not connect on a 3-point shot with 13 seconds to go.

"I'm emotionally bankrupt," a subdued Williams said. "To play at the Garden, to play for the league, for it to be in overtime and it to be a last-second shot made by a kid that wasn't supposed to come to Marquette. I couldn't have scripted it better."

Blue, who tied the game, 67-67, on a layup with 49 seconds left, was originally committed to Wisconsin before changing his mind when Williams became the Marquette coach.

"I wanted to make sure I took the last shot and did not give them a chance to win," Blue said of his game-winning basket. "I did not want to get a charge or turn the ball over in any way."

Instead, Blue focused on St. John's shot-blocking giant, 6-9 Chris Obekpa who is second in the nation with 124 rejects, including seven on Saturday.

"I made sure I kept my eyes on the big guy, and when I had him beat I just put the ball up as high as I could," Blue said. "With all the reps we did during the summer with coach (Williams), we practice shots like that all the time. Today it came to light."

Marquette has claimed four straight games decided by 10 points or fewer.

"I said in November, I did not think we were going to blow anybody out," Williams recalled. "Individually that is not how we are built. We are built collectively. Everyone has ownership in what we do."

St. John's (16-14, 8-10) was down by as many as 14 points early in the second half before clawing its way back.

Trailing, 63-54, St. John's scored nine unanswered points in the last 1:49 of regulation to send the game into overtime.

Marco Bourgault, who made only 3-of-13 shots in the game, nailed a key 3-pointer in the run. Guard Jamal Branch tied the game, 63-63, when he went coast-to-coast, scoring on an up-and-under layup with 22 seconds to play.

The Red Storm's hot second-half shooting (16-of-27) fell cold in the extra session, as coach Steve Lavin's team made only two of its nine shots from the floor.

"Obviously, nobody in our locker room is satisfied with moral victories," Lavin said. "I thought our guard play down the stretch was really impressive.

"Our man-to-man defense got us back into the game and we were able to extend the game and create more possessions through our full-court press."

The Golden Eagles failed to score a field goal in the final four minutes of regulation, settling for only three free throws.

Marquette opened the second half on a 13-2 run to increase its lead to 41-27. Blue led the barrage with six points.

Down for most of the first half, Marquette erased a six point deficit, 25-19, by going on a 9-0 burst in the last 5:19 to end with a 28-25 advantage.

St. John's relied too much on its perimeter game in the half, failing to get to the foul line.

The Red Storm connected on only one of their 10 shots from long range. The Marquette bench was a factor, scoring 14 points, including six each from Davante Gardner and Wilson.

Jakarr Sampson of St. John's, a candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year who is tops among freshman in scoring in the conference at 14.9, scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 36 minutes.

NOTES: St. John's was without its leading scorer, D'Angelo Harrison, who was suspended for the remainder of the season March 3 because of what coach Steve Lavin described as "a pattern of failing to meet expected standards for conduct and behavior." The Red Storm was also minus Sir'Dominic Pointer, who was suspended for the game following his involvement in an altercation at Notre Dame on March 5. ... Although he comes off the Marquette bench, Gardner is third in the Big East in field-goal percentage at .575.
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