No. 23 Marquette exorcised a few of its demons, recent and longstanding, with a dominant 86-54 win over St. John's in the quarterfinal round of the 2019 BIG EAST Tournament at Madison Square Garden Thursday night.
Not only did Marquette (24-8) snap a four-game losing streak, it beat the only team that had handed it two defeats this season and reached the semifinal round of the BIG EAST Tournament for the first time since 2010. It was a needed bounce-back game for MU after the skid cost it the regular-season conference championship.
Marquette, and Markus Howard in particular, returned to the form it showed when it won 12 of 13 games before the slide. Howard returned to the form that won him this year's BIG EAST's Player of the Year award, pouring in 30 points on 8-of-15 shooting to lead all scorers. Sacar Anim also re-emerged, scoring 13 points, while Sam Hauser had 10 and Ed Morrow, Jr. came off the bench and grabbed eight rebounds.
Marquette, the second seed in the tournament, only trailed for a few moments in the opening minutes of the first half and had a 12-point lead at halftime, 38-26. The Red Storm got within six, 43-37, on a Justin Simon dunk with 14:58 remaining. Marquette, however, then found the extra gear it had been missing the last couple weeks, rattling off a 19-2 run to go up, 66-39, with 9:34 left.
St. John's (21-12), the seven-seed, appeared fatigued after capturing an 82-74 win over 10th-seeded DePaul in last night's opening round. As Marquette pulled away, the St. John's defense that had bedeviled Marquette in their first two meetings this season withered under the strain of a second game in two nights. While most bracketologists believe St. John's will be chosen for the tournament on the strength of quality wins, they remain in the range where a trip to Dayton and the First Four, or even being left out of the field altogether, is still possible. A third win over Marquette would have largely cemented their place in the field. Instead, Marquette finally found a way to slow down Shamorie Ponds, who scored just 13 points after lighting up MU for 28 and 26 in the two previous meetings, and Simon, who led the Red Storm with 14, and took the most important of the three games between the two teams this year.
In a year where the BIG EAST featured an atypical amount of parity, the higher-seeded team has somewhat surprisingly won every game of the tournament through the first two nights. Marquette will play third-seeded Seton Hall in the semifinals Friday after the Pirates disposed of sixth-seeded Georgetown in the final game of tournament play last night, 73-57. The game will follow No. 25 and top-seeded Villanova's contest against four-seed Xavier and should begin at or after 8 p.m. CDT.
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