No. 6 Xavier takes league opener, holds off Marquette 91-87
MILWAUKEE (AP) — If Xavier coach Chris Mack had his way, his team wouldn’t have to worry about basketball at Christmas.
A win to open Big East play in a tough environment eases some of the sting of being away from home.
Trevon Blueitt had 23 points, J.P. Macura scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half and the sixth-ranked Musketeers beat Marquette 91-87 to survive a road test on Wednesday night.
Tyrique Jones added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting before fouling out for Xavier (13-1, 1-0), which won its eighth straight game. But to get ready for Marquette, Mack’s team had to practice two days ago on Christmas.
“I know our fans and TV want to see games. Christmas Day, I think our kids should be home with their families,” Mack said as part of an answer to a question about offensive rebounding. “That’s no excuse, both teams were in the same bucket. That’s just sort of my feeling on it.”
The Musketeers pulled out a win in the closing minutes of a tight contest. Macura, as usual, provided an emotional lift, yelling to himself at times and pumping his fist after good plays.
“He’s as competitive as any player I’ve ever coached,” Mack said. “It can be checkers, chess, it doesn’t matter. ... He wants to win.”
Andrew Rowsey led the Golden Eagles (9-4, 0-1) with 31 points but missed a 3 while open from a couple feet from behind the arc with 1:16 left with his team trailing 85-82.
Marquette’s Markus Howard also missed a couple of layups late, including an attempt high off the glass off an inbounds play. Kaiser Gates answered at the other end with a 3-pointer for a five-point lead with 1:29 left.
“We had a chance to seize momentum a couple times and we weren’t able to,” coach Steve Wojciechowski said.
The Big East leader in free throw shooting (79.8 percent), Xavier sealed the road victory by going 6 of 6 from the line over the final 28 seconds.
But the Musketeers were challenged by Marquette from the early going.
A back-and-forth first half ended with a 42-39 lead for Xavier, with Bluiett leading the way with 12 points. Playing in front of a friendly crowd and urged on by the energetic Wojciechowski, Marquette often outhustled Xavier in sometimes-chippy play in the paint.
Howard finished with 13 points, shooting 6 of 19 from the field and 1 of 8 from 3-point territory. Rowsey was 11 of 24 from the field, and 6 of 17 from behind the arc.
Xavier: A tough nonconference schedule tested the Musketeers’ resolve in a tricky league opener. The savvy senior backcourt of Bluiett and Macura gives the team an experienced duo to tackle any challenge. Blueitt was just 1 of 8 from 3-point range but added eight assists and went 10 of 11 from the foul line.
Marquette: Playing in his third game since becoming eligible, 6-foot-11 center Harry Froling has provided much-needed size and hustle down low. He had eight rebounds in 20 minutes. Froling’s presence allows 6-8 swingman Sam Hauser, who can be a tough matchup with his size and shooting ability, to not have to worry as much about the paint.
Wojciechowski should be encouraged overall by the play of his bench, including 16 points from Jamal Cain. The freshman was 4 of 6 from the 3-point line, hitting open looks from the corner.
“I thought our bench had big games — obviously Jamal, he shined the brightest,” Wojciechowski said. “Jamal, he just keeps getting a little bit better.”
The ability to hit from distance makes Rowsey and Howard a formidable duo for any defense. Rowsey had the hot hand on Wednesday, hitting two 3s in a span of 1:10 to tie the game at 80 before Xavier inched ahead for good.
Five Xavier players scored in double figures overall. The Musketeers shot 59 percent (16 of 27) in the second half. ... Hauser finished with 12 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. ... Marquette was outscored 44-28 in the paint.
Xavier: Hosts DePaul on Saturday in first Big East home game.
Marquette: Hosts Georgetown on Saturday to wrap up four-game home stand.
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