NEW YORK (AP) — Tyler Kolek and No. 6 Marquette raced out to a hefty lead and never looked back, beating No. 15 Xavier 65-51 on Saturday night to win the Big East Tournament for the first time.
Kolek, the Big East Player of the Year, had 20 points and eight rebounds as the top-seeded Golden Eagles (28-6) dominated a Big East final that brought a Midwestern flavor to Madison Square Garden.
Coach Shaka Smart’s surprising team will head into the NCAA Tournament with a nine-game winning streak after Marquette’s first appearance in the Big East championship game resulted in one of its best performances of a scintillating season.
Kolek’s steal and layup made it 51-27 with 14:12 left. Less than a minute later, after two offensive rebounds by the Golden Eagles, David Joplin made a corner 3 to double up second-seeded Xavier (25-9).
Joplin finished with 12 points. Kolek was selected the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Adam Kunkel scored 12 points to lead the Musketeers, who had a five-game winning streak snapped.
This was the first Big East title game since the conference dropped football in 2013 to not feature any of its longstanding Northeast members.
Still, the Milwaukee school (Marquette, which joined in 2005) and the Cincinnati school (Xavier, which joined in 2013) filled The Garden for the first 1 vs. 2 seed Big East Tournament final in 19 years.
It looked more like a 1-16 NCAA Tournament game for a while.
Marquette jumped out to a 21-4 lead, and never relented.
During a particularly splendid 2 1/2 minutes, Stevie Mitchell swished a corner 3, Kolek came off a screen to make another 3, Kam Jones got free for a reverse layup after a nifty hesitation move on the baseline and Kolek converted a layup off a give-and-go with Oso Ighodaro.
At that point, Marquette was up 33-10 with 7:02 left in the first half and the Golden Eagles had not yet committed a turnover.
The Musketeers responded with a 14-5 run to end the period, but with their fans chanting “We are, Mar-quette!” the Golden Eagles went into the break up 39-24.
Marquette’s only previous league tournament title was as a member of Conference USA in 1997.
Twenty-six years later, the Golden Eagles were able to clear the bench in the final minute of the Big East championship game and their fans were finally able to make Madison Square Garden feel like home.
Xavier: The Musketeers played what coach Sean Miller called one of their best two-way games of the season in the semifinals Friday night against Creighton. Less than 24 hours later, they did almost nothing well. Xavier shot 34% from the field, forced only four turnovers and was held 12 points under its previous season low. The Musketeers fell to 0-2 in Big East championship games.
Marquette: Smart, who took VCU to a Final Four but never could find that consistent winning formula at Texas, guided a team picked to finish ninth in the Big East in the preseason coaches’ poll to maybe its best season since Dwyane Wade led Marquette to a Final Four in 2003.
Xavier: Miller will have the Musketeers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles will be making their second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and figure to earn perhaps a No. 2 seed.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25