The motto for Marquette ever since head coach Shaka Smart arrived in March of 2021 has been relationships, growth, and victory. It's been put all over their social media pages when they drop a video of practice or highlight during a game. After coming to a team that hadn't won an NCAA tournament game in nearly a decade, it was going to take all three steps of that motto to get the Golden Eagles back on the national stage.
Now almost three years later, that motto has achieved that goal, as the No. 4 Marquette Golden Eagles took down the No. 1 team in the country in Kansas in the semi-final of the Maui Invitational Tournament. This is just the third time Marquette has beaten a No. 1 ranked team in school history. The other two came against Kentucky in 2003 in the Elite Eight and Villanova in January 2017.
“We felt like, as a team, this was a game that we had some advantages in, and we felt like it was really important to press those advantages by being connected, helping each other, having a level of resolve even when things don’t go our way,” Smart said.
It is the first win for Smart against a No. 1 team in the country in his storied coaching career and picked up just his fourth win against the Jayhawks.
“I’ve learned the hard way against Kansas. You gotta stand up to them," Smart said. "The most important part of that was our players and the way they played, with connectivity and incredible effort and resolve. Even when things didn’t go our way, they stuck with it.”
Ighodaro wins the Match-Up in the Middle
This game's marquee match-up heading in was between the two big men in Kansas' All-American Hunter Dickinson and Marquette's Oso Ighodaro. It was a battle all night long, but after Ighodaro's 21 points and nine rebounds, it's safe to say he won this battle. The Arizona native also held Dickinson to 5-for-10 shooting
“Oso’s been playing his butt off for a long time," Smart said. "I think people tend to recognize when he plays against really good players, and I don’t think you can line up three better bigs for him to play against. It’s almost like they get better every game.”
The Arizona native also held Dickinson to 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting and one offensive rebound all night.
“I just wanted to win. That’s really the biggest thing for me. They have great players, they’re a great team obviously…I just wanted to do what I could to win.”
Outside of Ighodaro, it was a balanced scoring effort from the Golden Eagles. Sophomore guard Chase Ross had 12 points off the bench, while Kam Jones had 10 points and three assists. The 2022-23 Big East Player of the Year, Tyler Kolek, had six points, four assists, four rebounds, and five steals.
Former Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr. had a strong performance for Kansas, scoring 24 points and eight rebounds. McCullar and Dickinson were the only two players to hit double figures for the Jayhawks, as Dajuan Harris Jr. scored just four points on 2-of-8 shooting (25%).
The 'Bulldogs' Shine Through
Marquette assistant coach DeAndre Haynes once called sophomore guards Sean Jones and Chase Ross bulldogs, that they bring an edge to both ends of the floor every night. The two members of the 2022 class had some key moments to seal the victory for Marquette.
Jones had a big And-1 layup at the start of the game that sparked an 11-0 run to give Marquette a 27-16 lead at the 9:23 mark in the first half. Ross later hit a big step-back three-point shot as part of a 9-0 Marquette run to give the Golden Eagles a 17-point lead at the 16:02 mark of the second half. It was the largest lead Marquette had all night, giving the Golden Eagles a big cushion for the rest of the second half.
“We talk about energy-generating behaviors, and we try to promote the heck out of those," Smart said. "We keep track of them during the game, during practice every day, so I’m just trying to give those guys as much energy as I can.”
We Are Marquette
During the first half, Smart got into a heated discussion with Kansas head coach Bill Self over McCullar, sharing some words with Smart and the Marquette bench during the game. In his post-game interview on ESPN Milwaukee, Smart proved why he was the right guy for the Golden Eagles by defending his team, program, and school.
The spot for the No. 1 team in next week's AP Poll and the Maui Invitational title will be on the line tomorrow, as the Golden Eagles will take on the No. 2 team in the country in Purdue.
Game time is set for 4:00 p.m. CST on ESPN. Marquette played the Boilermakers last season in West Layfette, losing 75-70. Junior forward David Joplin had 21 points and nine rebounds in the loss.
“I wasn’t really thinking that far in advance," Ighodaro said. "I was just trying to get on the floor and get some playing time. It’s been a long journey since then.”
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