MILWAUKEE (AP)Marquette’s Shaka Smart couldn’t remember ever experiencing a finish quite like this in 14 seasons as a head coach.
The sixth-ranked Golden Eagles had a 10-point lead with less than 30 seconds left Saturday, only to see St. John’s nearly come all the way back.
No. 6 Marquette secured its 96-94 victory only after O’Mar Stanley missed a potential tying free throw with 2.4 seconds left. Kam Jones, who scored 23 points for the Golden Eagles, pulled down the rebound and made one of two free throws after getting fouled.
“I’ve never seen an end of a game like that, at least that I’ve been a part of,” Smart said. “We’re really, really fortunate that there was a missed free throw there at the end.”
Moments after the narrow escape, Marquette (25-6, 17-3) cut down down the Fiserv Forum nets to celebrate its first outright Big East championship. It clinched the title with a 72-56 triumph at Butler on Tuesday night.
St. John’s (17-14, 7-13) almost put a damper on the postgame party.
Marquette appeared to have the game in hand after Stevie Mitchell sank two free throws to make it 93-83 with 29 seconds left. Marquette even inserted senior walk-on Michael Kennedy into the game.
But the Red Storm wouldn’t go away, showing the same gumption that helped them claw back after facing a 19-point deficit in the first nine minutes.
“No quit in this team,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said.
David Jones hit a 3-pointer with 21 seconds left, then got a backcourt steal and sank another 3 to cut the lead to 93-89 with 18 seconds remaining. After a pair of Mitchell free throws, St. John’s guard Dylan Addae-Wusu banked in a 3-pointer while getting fouled and hit the ensuing free throw to make 95-93 with 12 seconds left.
It was the second improbable shot of the day for Addae-Wusu, who had a career-high 25 points. He beat the first-half buzzer by sinking a 3-pointer from roughly 60 feet away.
“I’ve never seen anything like that, that last minute,” Kam Jones said. “Some of the shots they hit were just crazy.”
Marquette’s David Joplin, who was shooting 84.6% from the line heading into the game, missed a pair of free throws to keep the lead at two. David Jones missed a potential tying shot, but Stanley got the rebound and was fouled.
After Stanley made his first free throw, Marquette called a timeout.
“Just a chance to kind of make him think about it,” Smart said. “He looked very, very confident on the first one.”
Stanley missed the next shot, and Marquette held on to the rebound and the game.
“Close but no cigar,” Anderson said. “I thought our guys fought to the very end. I thought offensively that’s probably the best we’ve played in a while for a consistent amount of time.”
Marquette’s Tyler Kolek had 18 points and 10 assists. Mitchell scored 14, Oso Ighodaro had 13 and Olivier-Maxence Prosper finished with 10.
Joel Soriano of St. John’s had 14 points and 11 rebounds in his 23rd double-double of the season, tying Purdue’s Zach Edey for the Division I lead. Posh Alexander had 18 points, and David Jones finished with 17.
St. John’s: The Red Storm did a nice job fighting back on the road after falling behind, but turnovers proved costly. St. John’s shot 53.1% from the floor but committed 19 turnovers.
Marquette: It would have been natural to experience a letdown after clinching the Big East title outright, but Marquette instead played extremely well at the start of the game. The Golden Eagles haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013, but this team is capable of making a deep postseason run.
Marquette has its highest ranking since the 1977-78 season, when it spent part of that season in the No. 1 spot. By going 2-0 this week, the Golden Eagles made their case for a spot in the top five.
St. John’s: Seeded eighth in the Big East Tournament, the Red Storm will face No. 9 seed Butler in a first-round game Wednesday at New York.
Marquette: As the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament, the Golden Eagles will face either St. John’s or Butler in a quarterfinal Thursday at New York.
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