NEW YORK — Marquette men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart has said all season that the team’s goal is to play its best basketball in March.
If you want to know how that search is going, just take a look at the shiny trophies that the Golden Eagles have added in the last two weeks.
Sixth-ranked MU looked close to the idealized version of himself on Saturday night, putting up an efficient offense and a bullying defense in a 65-51 win over Xavier in the Big East Tournament championship game.
The Golden Eagles (28-6) won the tournament for the first time since joining the league in 2005. They add this title to the first outright Big East regular-season title in program history. The last time MU won a conference tournament was in Conference USA in 1997.
Tyler Kolek had 20 points and eight rebounds for MU, while David Joplin added 12 off the bench.
The Golden Eagles were locked in from the start, racing to a 12-2 lead while shooting 5-for-8 before Xavier’s coach, Sean Miller, called a timeout.
MU’s defense was stifling Xavier’s offense, which has ranked among the best in the country this season. The Golden Eagles increased their lead to 33-10 when Kolek dropped a layup.
Even when the Golden Eagles offense crashed to Earth and went more than four minutes without scoring, the Musketeers could only come within 13.
But MU’s Joplin, the Big East’s sixth man of the year, pulled off a big three-point play. He added his second 3-pointer of the first half to push the Golden Eagles’ lead to 39-22.
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The Golden Eagles didn’t let up after halftime, getting two free throws from Kam Jones to lead 47-26.
The Big East tournament championship felt inevitable as Joplin knocked down a three-pointer for a 54-27 lead.
The Musketeers had a brief burst of life when Adam Kunkel hit two 3-pointers to cut the lead to 61-46 with 3:53 remaining. Desmond Claude added a layup after a timeout, but Kolek ended the 8-0 run by spiking a floater down the lane.
Xavier fans began to head for the exits and MU fans were ready for the trophy presentation.
This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Marquette defeats Xavier in Big East basketball tournament final