College Basketball Broadcaster and Reporter
The No. 1 team in the country has fallen in college basketball, and it’s courtesy of the reigning Big East champion, the fourth-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles.
Shaka Smart’s team out-defended and out-paced the Kansas Jayhawks, 73-59, to advance to the Maui Invitational championship game on Wednesday night against Zach Edey and No. 2 Purdue (5 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Marquette showed America that last year’s 29-win season, a large returning cast in Milwaukee and major preseason buzz as a result amounted to no fluke. Known typically for their offense, it was the Golden Eagles’ defense that stood out, forcing Kansas into 18 turnovers and locking down on Jayhawks point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (four points, 2-for-8 field goals).
On the offensive end, the takeaway is clear: Oso Ighodaro has become one of the best big men in America. After hanging in with UCLA star Adem Bona on Monday night, Ighodaro outdid All-American Hunter Dickinson in the semifinal win with 21 points and nine rebounds.
In what was a game tied at 16 through six and a half minutes, Marquette took off from there with supporting cast members Sean Jones and Chase Ross leading a 9-0 run. That’s the other takeaway from this team: it doesn’t have to be the Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones show all the time for Smart’s team to flourish.
In fact, the All-American point guard and reigning Big East Player of the Year only shot 3-for-9 from the floor in a game that Marquette won by 14 points. This team has legit depth.
In the second half, the closest the Jayhawks could get was eight points, with Kevin McCullar Jr. scoring 24 points and Dickinson adding 13 points and eight boards, but guard play continuing to show its flaws on Bill Self’s team.
The most dramatic moment of the game didn’t have anything to do with the play on the floor: Self and Smart got into it near halfcourt at the under-4 media timeout in the first half, with Smart having to be held back by his coaching staff before official Roger Ayers called them both to center court. The moment was sparked by McCullar Jr. and Smart having an exchange after the Kansas wing hit a 3 from the corner. Here’s the interaction between Smart and Self, which resulted in high tension:
Following the game, Self took a shot at Smart:
“The one thing we’re gonna make clear is we don’t take a back seat to anyone,” Smart said to reporters after the game. “That’s how we go about things, and that’s the only way you beat Kansas. I’ve learned the hard way against Kansas. You gotta stand up to them.”
Marquette did just that, and on Wednesday, the reigning national player of the year and the Boilermakers stand in their way. Purdue beat Tennessee in a game that featured 51 fouls and 73 free throws between the two teams, 71-67. Sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer matched his career high with 27 points while Edey had 23 and 10.
“He’s gonna have to eat his Wheaties again tomorrow morning, because Edey’s as good as it gets at the college level,” Smart said of the challenge that awaits Ighodaro and the Golden Eagles.
The win over No. 1 Kansas marked Marquette’s third win over a No. 1 team all-time and only the second in a non-conference game. The first came on March 29, 2003, when Dwyane Wade had a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) to lead Marquette past Kentucky and clinch a berth into the Final Four with an 83-69 victory.
The win also marked Marquette’s first over Kansas since 1974, and it was also Shaka Smart’s first win against an AP No. 1 team. He entered 0-3 in his career.
Kansas will play Tennessee in the third place game of the Maui Invitational at 2:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.
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