NEW YORK — Just over 24 hours after Marquette head coach Shaka Smart leaped as high as he could after an emotional semifinal victory in the Big East Tournament, his Golden Eagles made sure that he, along with the rest of Marquette nation, experienced being on cloud nine after finishing their championship season in the Big Apple.
Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek scored 20 points to lead the top-seeded Golden Eagles to a 65-51 victory over No. 2 seed Xavier in the championship game of the Big East Tournament on Saturday night, the first-ever conference tournament title while a member of the Big East. Kam Jones and David Joplin also scored in double figures as the Golden Eagles, picked ninth out of 11 teams in the Big East preseason poll, secured their school-record-tying 28th win of the season.
“I’m a history guy, so just thinking about all the great players that have played [at Madison Square Garden], all the great moments that have been here,” Smart said. “And I think for these guys, getting that experience, there’s nothing like going and doing something together in a special place and then having that in your pocket for the rest of your life.”
Marquette put the competitive nature of this game to bed within the first five minutes, scoring 21 of the game’s first 25 points in opening up a 21-4 lead. The Golden Eagles’ lead never dropped before single digits after that opening run, and a Joplin three-pointer midway through the second half saw Marquette doubling up the overmatched Musketeers at 54-27.
“I thought tonight there are times when [Marquette’s] effort level and their quickness, their togetherness, their communication, it was like there were six players on defense against us,” Xavier head coach Sean Miller said. “We couldn’t get a good shot, and that is to their credit. They have a program. They have depth. They have spirit. They have communication. Tonight, we would have had to be at our very, very best to beat them.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday’s championship game, with the photos taken by ALOST photographer Jenny Rohl. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 14 pictures in total.