Xavier finds defense, reaches Big East semis

Posted at 9:32 PM, Mar 10, 2016

 NEW YORK (AP) — Xavier hadn't been playing defense lately the way it had been early in the season. On Thursday night, the fifth-ranked Musketeers looked a lot more like themselves on that end of the court in a 90-72 victory over Marquette in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

"I thought our team was a little different than we've been the last couple of weeks defensively, and we've been making a big point of it in practice. The message seemed to be heeded," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "I thought our guys from the very beginning of the game played really hard defensively. ... I was really, really pleased with how hard we defended in the first half."

Trevon Bluiett matched his career high with 24 points and Xavier took advantage of foul trouble by Marquette star center Henry Ellenson to dominate the Golden Eagles at Madison Square Garden.

Comedian Bill Murray, wearing a Xavier hat, was there to cheer the Musketeers, His son, Luke Murray, is an assistant coach.

Second-seeded Xavier (27-4) advanced to Friday's 9 p.m. semifinal against third-seeded Seton Hall, an 81-73 winner over sixth-seeded Creighton.

PLUS: Xavier's Chris Mack voted national coach of the year

It will be the Musketeers second straight trip to the semifinals. They lost to Villanova in last season's championship game.

"We know the way we've been defending those past three games, those won't win us any championships," Bluiett said. "So we realized that and we know that every game we come out we have to play our best."

JaJuan Johnson had 19 points to lead the seventh-seeded Golden Eagles (20-13), who have reached the semifinals twice (2008, 2010) but they have never made it to the championship game. They beat St. John's 101-93 in the opening round.

This was the third time Xavier beat Marquette this season with the first two both decided by eight points.

The third was nothing like the first two. Marquette finished its opening round late Wednesday night while Xavier had the day off.

"I don't want to make excuses. We did finish after midnight last night," Golden Eagles coach Steve Wojociechowski said. "Our best player was in foul trouble for a lot (of the game). We could have done a better job than we did.

"I didn't feel like we played as hard as we could and that's the most disappointing thing to me in regards to our team because I feel we could have made it harder on them."

Xavier opened on an 11-2 run with Ellenson, the conference's freshman of the year and its leading rebounder, picking up his second foul just 3 minutes into the game. He was taken out of the game but when Xavier started having its way inside and took a 15-4 lead, he was back with 14:20 left in the half. The Golden Eagles went to a 2-3 zone to try to keep him from picking up another foul but it didn't work.

Ellenson, who finished with 14 points and three rebounds, scored eight straight points for Marquette as the Golden Eagles drew within 26-21. With 2:44 left in the half Ellenson and Bluiett got tangled up near midcourt and both went down to the court. An official review found that Ellenson tripped Bluiett and he was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul — his third.

Bluiett's free throw and J.P. Macura's 3 on the ensuing possession were part of a 13-0 run that gave the Musketeers a 43-25 lead and Macura hit a long 3 with 4 seconds left to give Xavier a 46-30 lead.

Bluiett also match his career high with five 3-pointers.

"It's satisfying. But it really doesn't mean anything now," he said. "Just because we've got another game in 24 hours. So I mean to be able to get this win, it's great. We're turning the page to the next game."

Xavier shot 59.4 percent (19 of 32) in the half while the Golden Eagles were 11 of 32 (34.4 percent).

"Offensively I thought our guys really shared the ball, but that's nothing new," Mack said. "We've been doing that all year."

The Musketeers opened the second half on a 10-3 run and the rout was on with Xavier leading by as many as 28 points. The closest Marquette got was 17 points.