MILWAUKEE (AP) — After squandering second-half leads in each of its four losses this season, Marquette vowed to finish games more effectively.
So far, so good.
Oso Ighodaro scored 19 points and showed some uncharacteristic free-throw accuracy down the stretch as No. 25 Marquette defeated No. 6 UConn 82-76 on Wednesday for its fifth consecutive victory. The Golden Eagles have erased halftime deficits in each of their last three wins.
“We just felt like we didn’t finish games good enough in those losses,” Ighodaro said. “Me and TK (point guard Tyler Kolek) talked about just trying to lead in those moments and make sure we got the right shots.”
Marquette (14-4, 6-1 Big East) trailed by 11 points late in the first half and was down 37-33 at the break. The Golden Eagles were behind 48-41 midway through a 96-85 victory at St. John’s on Jan. 3 and erased a 36-34 halftime deficit in a 95-73 blowout of Georgetown on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles have shot 62.5% after halftime in those three games.
“The fact that our guys are playing better down the stretch of games I think is in a lot of ways because they’ve done it now and they’ve been in some games and we took some lumps in some close games earlier in the year,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said.
“The way the games are played in nonconference and the NCAA Tournament are much different than the way they’re played in league play,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “The games are a lot more physical. We’re proving to be better suited for maybe those other types of games that are played a little bit differently, which makes me feel better about March, but it was scary, the amount of one-on-ones, being driven and scored on, the lack of physical toughness at the point of contact in some situations.”
Olivier-Maxence Prosper scored 17 points and Kam Jones added 15 – all in the second half – for Marquette.
UConn lost despite getting 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks from 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan off the bench. Alex Karaban added 17 points and Adama Sanogo had 10.
After trailing by eight with less than two minutes left, UConn got the margin down to three on two occasions. But Marquette answered each time.
Marquette led 76-73 when Ighodaro got fouled with 36.2 seconds left. He hit both free throws to give the Golden Eagles some breathing room. Ighodaro sank two more free throws with 11 seconds remaining to cap the scoring.
Ighodaro had been just 16 of 38 on free-throw attempts this season before hitting those four.
“I had a couple of tough games this year at the free-throw line, but I trust myself,” Ighodaro said. “I work every day at it. I think I’m a good free-throw shooter. My teammates believe in me.”
Smart said he was confident and cited Ighodaro’s track record. Ighodaro made 73.8% of his free throws last season.
“What I saw in his eyes is there was no avoidance,” Smart said. “There was no hesitation. It was, ‘I’m stepping up to the line and you send me to the line, I’m going to get two points for my team.’”
UConn: The Huskies scored 16 straight points in the first half but couldn’t slow down Marquette’s offense in the second half. The Huskies lost despite collecting a season-high 11 blocks, including eight in the first half.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles stayed competitive without getting much in the first half from Jones, who entered the night with a team-high 16.1 points per game. Once Jones heated up, Marquette took off. The Golden Eagles went 30 of 59 from the floor and are shooting over 50% as a team.
Marquette should stay in the Top 25 next week now even if it loses at Xavier on Sunday. UConn probably needs to beat St. John’s this week to stay in the top 10.
UConn: Hosts St. John’s on Sunday.
Marquette: At Xavier on Sunday.