On February 24, 2018, a Marquette team on the fringes of the NCAA tournament saw its bubble hopes largely dashed with a 70-62 loss at a DePaul team that was just 3-9 in the BIG EAST and yet to win a game in its new home of Wintrust Arena. That Marquette team ended up in the NIT, and that’s why last night’s 69-68 MU loss to the Blue Demons in Chicago felt eerily familiar to Marquette fans.
A seven-point lead with under five minutes left wasn’t enough as Marquette (18-11, 8-9 BIG EAST), which was ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press poll for a time in February, lost its fourth game in five tries and fell to the team at the bottom of the BIG EAST standings. MU allowed a 15-4 run over the final 4:19, excluding an ultimately meaningless Markus Howard three-pointer at the buzzer, costing them the game.
With the score tied at 65, Marquette came out of a timeout with 49 seconds left and saw Howard get his three-point try blocked by Romeo Weems. Rather than play for a final shot, Charlie Moore drove the lane for DePaul (15-15, 3-14 BIG EAST), getting Koby McEwen to commit his disqualifying fifth foul. Moore made both double-bonus free throw, giving the Blue Demons the lead, 67-65, though Marquette still had 21.5 seconds left to answer. However, without McEwen, who hit clutch baskets at the end of regulation or in overtime of consecutive games against Butler and Xavier earlier this season, MU looked lost in the scramble. It failed to find Howard, the nation’s leading scorer, instead settling for a Brendan Bailey three that fell well short. Moore got the rebound and made two more free throws to put the game out of reach, even with Howard’s three after the teams traded turnovers.
Howard led Marquette with 29 points, but as has been common during MU’s skid, none of his teammates scored in double-figures. Sacar Anim had nine points, but made just 3-of-10 shots. Five Blue Demons scored at least 11 points, led by Moore’s 15. Weems had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Marquette went just 1-for-8 to conclude the often-ugly game, though DePaul won while shooting just over 30 percent for the game and 26 percent in the second half. In many ways, though, the game was decided at the free-throw line. The Blue Demons, who entered the night shooting just over 64 percent from the charity stripe, made 31-of-35 (89 percent) attempts. Marquette got to the line just 19 times, making 15. MU also turned the ball over 16 times to DePaul’s eight.
Marquette does still have one chance to right its ship before the BIG EAST Tournament as it faces St. John’s on Saturday at 11 a.m. in New York.