With No. 17 Villanova falling to Georgetown, 85-73, in Washington, D.C. last night, all No. 11 Marquette had to do to secure first place by itself in the BIG EAST Conference was beat a Butler team it had easily dispatched on the road, 76-58, earlier in the season. While the Bulldogs didn't make it easy, Marquette still found a way to plant its flag atop the BIG EAST mountain, following through with a 79-69 victory at Fiserv Forum to move a half game ahead of the Wildcats for the top spot in the conference.
Marquette (22-4, 11-2 BIG EAST) trailed most of the first half, at times by as many as eight, as it seemingly couldn't get its shooting touch going against a Bulldogs group many consider to be in need of a win over a team like Marquette or Villanova to be considered viable for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Down 30-29 at halftime, and shooting just 40 percent overall and 20 percent from three-point territory, Marquette furthered its woes by allowing Butler to start the second half on a 7-0 run.
The 37-29 score prompted a Steve Wojciechowski timeout, in which he had what he understatedly called "a very direct conversation" with his team, which responded with an 8-0 run of its own to tie the game back up. An 11-0 run later on would put Marquette up, 54-44, and the hot-shooting Golden Eagles would grow the lead to 15 with a 7-0 run in the closing minutes. After its anemic first-half scoring, Marquette shot 59 percent overall and 64 percent from three in the second half as it ran away with a game Butler (15-12, 6-8 BIG EAST) may have thought was in its sights after 20 minutes.
Theo John, often subject to foul trouble, drew just one call in the game, allowing him to be on the floor for 34 minutes and collect 11 rebounds in addition to 15 points while missing just one of his seven shots. Markus Howard led all scorers with 28 points and Sam Hauser, returning from an eye injury suffered in Marquette's last game against DePaul, scored all 11 of his points in Marquette's second-half revival. Sean McDermott led Butler with 27 points, while Kamar Baldwin added 12 and Paul Jorgensen 10.
The Villanova loss and Marquette win pushes MU a half-game ahead of the Wildcats in the standings, as Villanova now resides at 11-3 in BIG EAST competition, having played, and lost, one more game than Marquette. The two teams are set for what could be a title-deciding showdown next Wednesday near Philadelphia. First, however, Marquette will travel to Providence to face the Friars at 11 a.m. CST Saturday.
Videos: Marquette / Big East