MILWAUKEE (AP) Some may have thought Marquette was out of contention for making the NCAA tournament this season, but Jake Thomas and his Golden Eagles teammates aren’t buying it.
Thomas scored a career-high 22 points Thursday to help lead Marquette to a crucial 75-73 Big East Conference win over Georgetown and keep the team’s NCAA tournament hopes alive. The win was Marquette’s fifth in its last six games.
Davante Gardner dominated inside to lead Marquette (17-11, 9-6) with 26 points and 7 rebounds.
The Golden Eagles now face a tough two-game road trip at 8th ranked Villanova on March 2 and at Providence on March 4 before closing out the regular season at home against St. John’s March 8.
”Some people were saying we were out of it, but obviously we never felt that way,” Thomas said. ”We control our own destiny. We just have to keep winning and not worry about other teams.”
Marquette coach Buzz Williams said he is proud of the way his team has fought its way back into NCAA tournament contention.
”We have fought and scrapped and worked just to be in this position,” he said. ”Whatever you want to say, those guys could have shut it down. They never have. To be 9-6 and tied for third (in the conference), that speaks to their character.”
Marquette survived against Georgetown as the Hoyas missed two layups in the last 15 seconds.
”We were just trying not to foul,” Thomas said. ”They had called a really tight game the whole game so we were trying to keep our hands up on the drive and make them shoot a contested shot to win.”
Gardner took over late in the game, scoring nine straight points on inside moves, including a driving layup with 3:58 remaining. He was fouled on the play and hit the free throw to give Marquette a 72-66 lead.
”They stayed single coverage on me so I had to go at them and score,” Gardner said. ”It feels really good that my teammates believe in me and kept feeding me the ball.”
D’Vaunt Smith-Rivera hit a 3-pointer and Jabril Trawick scored on a dunk with 2:25 remaining to trim the lead to 72-71.
After both teams missed a shot, Gardner rebounded his own miss and was fouled. He hit both free throws with 1:17 remaining to boost the lead to 74-71.
Markel Starks was fouled as he drove to the basket and hit two free throws with 1:07 remaining to make the score 74-73.
Gardner missed inside with 35 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Starks ran the clock down to 15 seconds, but missed a driving layup. Juan Anderson grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He hit one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds remaining to increase the lead to 75-73.
Smith-Rivera missed a layup with 3 seconds to go and Marquette grabbed the rebound to secure the win.
Smith-Rivera said the last shot felt good when it left his hand.
”I felt like it was going in, but it just rolled on the rim and just didn’t go my way,” he said.
Starks led Georgetown with 24 points and Smith-Rivera added 19 points
Georgetown (16-12, 7-9), which is also fighting to get an NCAA tournament bid, lost for the third time in its last four games. The Hoyas were done in by poor shooting, hitting just 7 of 26 shots in the second half.
Hoyas coach John Thompson III said he was disappointed with the loss, especially with how his team defended Thomas.
”We can’t lose Thomas,” he said. ”We just had some miscommunication and he ended up wide open. That just can’t happen.”
Trawick, who added 16 points, said the Hoyas do not have time to be down over the close loss, with tough games coming up against Creighton and Villanova.
”I’m proud of our team and the effort we put out today,” he said. ”We can’t hang our heads. We’ve got to get focused. If we bring the same energy against Creighton, I have confidence we will do well.”