MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia begins defense of its Big East tournament title tonight against 11th-seeded Marquette in a 9 p.m. second round game at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The Golden Eagles (19-13) enhanced their NCAA tournament resume with an 87-66 victory over Providence on Tuesday night. The Golden Eagles scored the first 17 points of the game and led by as many as 24 points in the first half.
Marquette outscored Providence’s bench 30-8 and the Golden Eagles topped 80 points in a game for the 15th time this season. Darius Johnson-Odom scored 23 points and Jimmy Butler added 19 for Marquette.
West Virginia (20-10) earned a first round bye as the six-seed after winning four of its last five regular season games, including three straight against Rutgers, Connecticut and Louisville entering postseason play. West Virginia’s 11-7 record in conference action was the sixth consecutive season the Mountaineers have posted a winning mark in league play to join Pitt as the only two Big East programs to do that.
Against Louisville, it was Casey Mitchell’s 3-point basket with eight seconds left that tied the game and then a pair of Truck Bryant free throws with 0.6 seconds remaining that gave West Virginia a 72-70 victory over the Cardinals. Junior forward Kevin Jones produced season highs of 25 points and 16 rebounds, his eighth double-double in points and rebounds this season.
Forward John Flowers contributed 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Bryant and Mitchell scored 10 each against Louisville.
Bryant scored a career-high 25 points in West Virginia’s 79-74 loss at Marquette back on Jan. 1. Trailing 75-74 with 35 seconds remaining in the game, the Mountaineers had an opportunity to take the lead, but Jae Crowder made a steal at the top of the key and was intentionally fouled by Mitchell. Marquette was awarded two free throws and possession of the basketball on the play.
Crowder had a career game against West Virginia, hitting 12 of his 14 field goal attempts and finishing with 29 points. Johnson-Odom added 21 and Butler contributed 10.
West Virginia began the game in a 9-0 hole and trailed by as many as 11, 28-17, in the first half before eventually leading by four, 57-53, midway through the second half. There were six ties and 10 different lead changes during the game.
Mitchell (14.3 ppg.), Jones (13.1 ppg.) and Bryant (10.9 ppg.) are averaging double figures for West Virginia; Flowers shows averages of 9.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Butler (16.3 ppg.), Johnson-Odom (16.2 ppg.) and Crowder (12.0 ppg.) are averaging double figures for Marquette.
“You can be pretty good and lose in the first round, as evidenced by a year ago,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
Tipoff is set for approximately 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN (Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas, Bill Raftery and Beth Mowins).
MSN’s coverage (Tony Caridi, Jay Jacobs and Kyle Wiggs) begins at 8:30 p.m. with the Coliseum Countdown.
Other games today include Connecticut-Georgetown at noon, St. John’s-Rutgers at 2 and Cincinnati-USF at 7.NOTES
- Marquette shot 52.6% and had a six-rebound advantage (34-28) against West Virginia the first time these two teams met.
- The Golden Eagles also had a 21-7 advantage in free throws attempted in the first game.
- West Virginia has won 16 of its last 22 games played at Madison Square Garden and has won 31 times overall in the building.
- Bob Huggins is 38-12 in conference tournaments, winning 10 conference tournament titles in four different leagues, including last year’s Big East tournament title – West Virginia’s first in school history.
- West Virginia has won 11 of its last 16 conference games this season after beginning the year 0-2.
- The Mountaineers have now enjoyed seven straight 20-win seasons for the first time since 1981-87.
- West Virginia returned to the AP poll at No. 20 this week. The Mountaineers have been ranked three separate times this season and a total of 26 weeks under Huggins since returning to his alma mater.
- WVU ranks fourth in the country in 3-point field goal percentage defense holding opponents to 28.8% from behind the 3-point arc.
- Marquette produced 20 assists in last night’s game against Providence, its most in Big East tournament action.
- Since joining the Big East, Marquette is 2-0 in Big East tournament second round games and has won 5 of 6 in its opening games of the tournament.
- Marquette leads the Big East in scoring averaging 77 points per game.