Maybe it’s the fact the Eagles made the Final Four last season. Or maybe it’s that the Frogs get more jacked up for a game against a nationally prominent program.
Either way, the Frogs defeated the Eagles for a second time this season 64-62 Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament in Cincinnati.
It wasn’t an easy victory the second time around.
The No. 9-seeded Frogs jumped ahead of No. 8-seeded Marquette early in the first half, never trailing in the game’s first 20 minutes, and took a 34-25 lead into halftime.
Sophomore forward Chudi Chinweze carried the scoring load for the Frogs in the first half with 11 points. Chinweze’s offensive production couldn’t have come at a better time as junior guard Corey Santee scored only two points in the first half and was forced to the bench after committing two fouls.
Freshman center Femi Ibikunle helped the Frogs bring their nine-point lead into halftime by providing great defense on Marquette big man Scott Merritt. Ibikunle held Merritt to two points on five shot attempts before halftime.
In the second half it was a battle between the team’s two leading scorers. Marquette’s Travis Diener was hitting on nearly every shot he threw up and Santee finally found his scoring grove late, scoring nine of his 11 points.
Diener’s great shooting from beyond the arc brought the Eagles back from 13 points down to a seven-point lead. The junior point guard, who was named to the C-USA First Team, connected on seven 3-pointers and scored 31 points. The seven 3-pointers were one short of the C-USA Tournament record.
Down the stretch, it looked as though Marquette was going to complete a big comeback to advance to the quarterfinals of the C-USA Tournament.
With 4:58 remaining in the contest, the Eagles took a 58-51 lead on a Diener jump shot, causing head coach Neil Dougherty to call a timeout.
The timeout helped the Frogs focus.
A 7-0 run ensued behind a Chinweze dunk, a Marcus Shropshire 3-pointer and a Santee game-tying layup.
From there, Santee took over.
Santee scored the final two baskets of the game with two tear-drop layups over Marquette defenders, including one with 8.1 seconds remaining.
Marquette had one final possession to either win the game or send it to overtime. Instead of giving Diener the ball for a 3-pointer, the Eagles went for the tie and were sent packing after Dameon Mason missed the game-tying layup.
The Frogs face the No. 1-seeded DePaul Blue Demons in the quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. today.