Thomas leads Marquette over Xavier 81-72

Feb 15, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Xavier Musketters center Matt Stainbrook battles for a rebound in the first half at BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Benny Sieu/Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE (AP) –– Senior guard Jake Thomas scored 18 points on a career-best six 3-pointers and Marquette held on for an 81-72 Big East Conference victory over Xavier on Saturday, the first time this season the Golden Eagles have won three consecutive games.

Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson each added 16 points for Marquette, (15-10, 7-5 Big East). Justin Martin had 20 points for Xavier, 17-8 overall, but also 7-5 in the conference after a 5-1 start. Matt Stainbrook and Myles Davis added 12 points apiece for the Musketeers.

The Golden Eagles used a 10-point run in the first half to open a 19-8 lead. The Musketeers got no closer than six points the rest of the half as Marquette forged a 39-29 lead.

Xavier closed within 59-54 on a 3-pointer by Davis with 11:01 remaining, but Marquette answered with eight straight points to push it to 67-54. Martin’s 3-pointer from the right corner pulled Xavier within 75-71 with 2:06 left, but the Golden Eagles responded with six consecutive free throws.

The Musketeers lost despite making 26 of 48 shots for 54.2 percent and a 32-20 rebounding advantage, which they turned into 20 second-chance points.

But Xavier was hurt by a season-high 19 turnovers, which Marquette converted into 27 points. Junior point guard Derrick Wilson registered a career-high six steals for the Golden Eagles.

Thomas, who was 2 of 10 from beyond the arc in the previous two games, made six of his first seven before missing his final three attempts. His previous career highs were five 3-pointers and 17 points, each of which he matched in Marquette’s 86-79 loss at Xavier in early January.

Marquette also offset Xavier’s slight field-goal advantage by making 24 of 27 free throws, including 18 of 20 in the second half.