Marquette ends WVU's hopes for Big East repeat
NEW YORK -- There would be no repeat for West Virginia, but the Big East Conference tournament has its three-peat.
The Mountaineers' defense of their 2010 Big East championship dead-ended with 67-61 loss to Marquette on Wednesday night before a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd of 19,375.
It marked the third straight season the reigning champ lost its first game.
"This (stinks), that's for sure," WVU forward Cam Thoroughman said after the second-round loss. "We're used to being here for a couple days. We wanted to defend our title. Now we're going home and nobody wants to."
WVU (20-11) led by 10 points early in the second half, but went through its familiar offensive funks. Back-to-back turnovers then preceded 3-pointers by the Golden Eagles (20-13) that turned a tied game in their favor and created a 61-55 lead.
The Mountaineers led by seven at the half but were outscored in the second half for the 11th time in 19 games against Big East opponents this season.
WVU was 6-for-27 (22.2 percent) after halftime and had consecutive gaps of 4:49 and then 9:21 without baskets. In that 14:10 span, WVU was 2-for-15 and outscored 26-13.
"That's the story of our season," forward John Flowers said. "We keep giving away leads. We need to play harder. We need to keep playing good, solid offense and defense and not just five minutes or a half."
WVU still had a chance when Truck Bryant made two free throws with 31 seconds left, to make it 64-61. Marquette turned the ball over and Bryant scooped it up and went to the basket, but missed a contested layup in a crowd.
"I was just trying to get to the rim and get a layup or a foul or something and maybe get a stop and see what happens," said Bryant, who thought he was fouled on the shot.
Junior Cadougan was fouled and made two free throws with 25 seconds left. The 20th-ranked Mountaineers, who stunned Louisville on Saturday by coming back from five down with 25 seconds to go, turned the ball over on the next possession.
The Golden Eagles and Mountaineers split the previous two games, which were decided by one and five points, but Marquette was in comfortable territory against WVU, which had its three-game winning streak snapped.
"For the second consecutive year, we had more single-digit games than any team in the country and it's not even close relative to any BCS team," said Marquette Coach Buzz Williams, whose team has now been in 12 such contests.
Cadougan had a career-high 15 points and five assists for Marquette. Darius Johnson-Odom had 11 points and Davante Gardner added 10. Marquette had an 11-0 edge in fast-break points.
Kevin Jones led the Mountaineers with 15 points, but only two came after halftime. Flowers battled foul trouble from the very beginning, but managed 11 points. Bryant added 10. Joe Mazzulla finished with eight points and five assists, but also six of the team's 13 turnovers. Marquette turned WVU's mistakes into 16 points.
The sixth-seeded Mountaineers built a 10-point lead when Bryant's 3-pointer made it a 41-31 game at the 17:42 mark, but 11th-seeded Marquette rallied behind two layups and seven points from Cadougan and a 3 from Joseph Fulce to cut WVU's lead to 46-45.
Jones made two free throws, but a three-point pay by Gardner brought the Golden Eagles all the way back. A 3 by Jae Crowder, who scored 29 points in the win against WVU on Jan. 1 but just four Wednesday, gave Marquette the lead, 53-51.
"They wanted it more - that might have something to do with it," Bryant said. "We didn't play how we usually play and they came out with great energy in the second half and controlled the tempo with their offense instead of us controlling the tempo with our offense."
Marquette advances to play No. 3 seed Louisville in tonight's 9:30 p.m. quarterfinal game. The Mountaineers had been to the quarterfinals the previous six years and the semifinals all three times under Coach Bob Huggins.
It's their first first-game loss in the tournament since 2006. They had a bye that year, too, and fell to Pitt in the quarterfinals.
WVU's first-game winning streak was the best in the conference. Marquette was the only other team to win its opening game in each of the past three years. The loss also ends WVU's conference-best streak of three years with at least two wins in this event.
WVU will now wait until Selection Sunday to learn of their seed in a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.