Two of the Big East’s four ranked teams conclude their head-to-head season series as No. 20 Marquette hosts No. 22 Providence on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
The Friars (14-4, 6-1 Big East) won the first meeting in a 103-98 double-overtime thriller on Dec. 20. Ed Cooley’s team will be looking to shake off their first conference loss, as a nine-game win streak was snapped with Saturday’s 73-67 decision at Creighton.
“I’m proud of our men (for) how we battled and competed (on Saturday), but we just came up a little bit short,” Cooley said. “I thought (Creighton center Ryan) Kalkbrenner’s size was a factor in the game, and we just weren’t fortunate to make a couple of shots when we needed to.”
Providence, which is already playing its fifth Big East road game of the season, had not lost since Nov. 30 at TCU.
After losing in Providence, the Golden Eagles (14-5, 6-2) won five in a row until a narrow 80-76 setback at league-leading Xavier on Saturday.
“I think when you go on the road in this league against the first-place team, that’s as close as you can ask for,” Marquette coach Shaka Smart said of Saturday’s game. “You’re not going to come in and blow anybody out.”
Point guard Tyler Kolek led Marquette with 25 points and seven assists, but 20 of his points came in the first half. The Golden Eagles were held to just 28 after halftime. Kolek scored a career-high 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting when he faced the Friars earlier this season.
“The person that deserves the most credit for our offense is (Kolek),” Smart said of the George Mason transfer earlier this month. “He is the best passer I’ve ever coached.”
Kolek leads the Big East with 7.9 assists per game, nearly two more than the next closest player.
Marquette scores 82.7 points per game, making it one of just two averaging over 80 in the conference.
The Golden Eagles failed to reach the 80-point mark against Xavier, and it did not help having center Oso Ighodaro in foul trouble.
“For us, though, especially, it’s not like we have a wagonload of bigs, so when he goes off the court we have to adjust how we’re playing,” Smart said. “There’s some advantages with our shooting lineup when he’s out, but there’s also some disadvantages to not having him out there.”
The Friars have been without a key player for the last two games, as point guard Jared Bynum is dealing with an abdominal injury.
Prior to beginning a current two-game road trip, Providence had a whole week off after beating St. John’s on Jan. 7.
Bynum felt “a little bit better” Saturday, Cooley said, but he was not all that close to returning to the floor.
“I think our lack of offensive synergy and continuity really, really showed (against Creighton),” Cooley said. “We’ve got to get Jared healthy, and hopefully we can get back to having a normal rotation where those guys will be able to settle us down.”
Marquette is 10-1 at home, with the lone loss coming in overtime against Wisconsin on Dec. 3.
–Field Level Media