OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — No. 10 Marquette took a huge step toward its first Big East championship in a decade, surviving a wild finish against 19th-ranked Creighton on Tuesday night to pick up its biggest road win of the season.
Tyler Kolek’s short jump shot gave the Golden Eagles the lead with 29 seconds left, and they left a sold-out and hostile CHI Health Center with a 73-71 victory after squandering the 10-point lead they held in the middle of the second half.
Marquette (22-6, 14-3) is going for its first Big East title since sharing it in 2012-13. The Golden Eagles have three regular-season games left, all against opponents in eighth place or lower in the conference. They have a 1 1/2-game lead over Providence and two-game lead over Creighton and Xavier.
“In terms of where we are in the standings, our motto is there is no finish line,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. “We want to get better over the course of the next week and we want to play our best as we move to the postseason.”
Marquette, the second-highest scoring team in the league, turned to its defense. The Golden Eagles forced nine turnovers in the second half, and 15 for the game, and held Creighton (18-10, 12-5) to 42% shooting over the last 20 minutes.
Oso Ighodaro limited Creighton’s Ryan Kalkbrenner to just five shots, though Creighton’s 7-footer still had 12 points.
“We knew we had to defend better,” Smart said. “We got 11 deflections in the first 4-5 minutes of the second half. They have too many weapons and too good a system. First half they had too much comfort. They were getting where they wanted to go. Our guys made things more challenging on them in the second half.”
Kam Jones, who finished with 19 points, and Ighodaro accounted for all the scoring during a 13-0 run that put Marquette up 63-53 with eight minutes left.
But Kalkbrenner and Ryan Nembhard led the Bluejays back and Baylor Scheierman tied it with a driving layup with 1:19 left.
It was 69-all when Kolek scored the go-ahead basket, moving into the lane and floating a left-handed shot over Kalkbrenner.
After Trey Alexander missed a 3-pointer, Jones made two free throws to put Marquette up 73-69. Kalkbrenner scored on the other end to pull the Bluejays within two points with 1.9 seconds left.
Marquette appeared to turn over the ball on the inbounds pass and Kalkbrenner laid it in, but the basket was wiped out because Nembhard was called for a foul while defending Jones on the play.
Jones missed his two free throws and Scheierman, who led the Bluejays with 18 points, was well short with a shot from beyond half court.
Kolek and Jones embraced as the buzzer sounded, and Jones raised his arms as the Golden Eagles began celebrating.
The last foul call against Nembhard led to a number of Creighton fans behind the Marquette bench to engage with players and staff, and the public address announcer admonished fans for throwing items onto the court.
“We don’t act that way,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Getting upset with a call, that’s my job. But we (Creighton fans) don’t do that. That’s not what we’re about. It’s disappointing that it happened and I don’t ever want it to happen again. I hope that message gets to the people that let their emotions get the best of them because that can’t happen.”
Marquette: The Golden Eagles were picked ninth in the Big East in the preseason and are now closing in on their first regular-season title since it shared the championship in 2012-13.
Creighton: The Bluejays looked to be in control late in the first half and led 40-32 at half. But they committed six turnovers in the first six minutes of the second half, setting the stage for Marquette’s comeback.
Marquette: Hosts DePaul on Saturday night.
Creighton: Visits Villanova on Saturday.
TOP PHOTO: Marquette’s Stevie Mitchell (4) steals the ball from Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/Rebecca S. Gratz)