COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Kam Jones managed just a single point in the first half against Vermont. Then the guard received a round of encouragement from the Marquette bench during an early second-half timeout.
It all just clicked for Jones from there.
Jones scored 18 of his 19 points in one stretch of the second half as second-seeded Marquette pulled away from Vermont en route to a 78-61 rout in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
“Kam, second half, he looked a little down, like somebody took his puppy dog in the timeout,” coach Shaka Smart said. “And we just tried to encourage him, all the coaches and players tried to encourage him. ‘Hey, just be you, man.’ And I thought he did a great job. That’s what allowed us to break the game open.”
Oso Ighodaro scored 14 points and David Joplin added 12 as Marquette (29-6) left the Catamounts behind in the last 10 minutes. Marquette won its first NCAA game in a decade and advanced to face seventh-seeded Michigan State on Sunday in the East Regional for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Michigan State beat No. 10 Southern California on Friday.
Although the win put Marquette in new territory for the first time in 10 years, the NCAA Tournament is routine for Smart. He’s made 10 tournament appearances in the last 13 years with three teams, and he led VCU to the Final Four in 2011.
His pep talk with Jones helped Marquette advance.
Jones’ second-half surge included scoring all of Marquette’s points in a five-minute stretch, including a trio of 3-point shots. By the time he was finished, the Golden Eagles increased their lead from five points to 17 with just under 10 minutes left.
Jones, who averages 14.7 points per game, said he got a pass from Ighodaro that gave him a look for an “easy 3” to start the run.
“That just made the basket look wide,” he said. “So I was just able to get it going.”
Dylan Penn, Matt Veretto and Robin Duncan each had 11 points for Vermont (23-11), whose 15-game win streak was snapped by the Golden Eagles.
Marquette led 39-30 at the half, despite Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek hitting only 3 of his 10 shots from the floor.
“Kam Jones really killed us in the second half,” Vermont coach John Becker said. “We did a good job on Kolek and didn’t do a good enough job on Kam Jones. Credit to them, they’re really good players. It’s not like we weren’t trying.”
Marquette extended its winning streak to 10 games.
Smart said Kolek has a thumb injury but plans to play against Michigan State on Sunday. Kolek wasn’t a big factor in the game, getting his fourth foul early in the second. He finished with eight points after scoring in double figures for the previous 13 games.
“He’s about as tough as they come,” Smart said. “So if he can play, he’s going to play. You probably have to cut his thumb off to keep him from playing. Even then he’d still try to play.”
Vermont: The Catamounts stayed close for most of the game but couldn’t make up the points after the stunning run by Jones.
“We cut it to five and we’ll go back and watch that tape and be frustrated by some of the mistakes we made,” Becker said.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2013. It was Smart’s 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in the past 13 years with three teams. In 2011, he led VCU out of the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, all the way to the Final Four.