Creighton basketball drops regular-season finale at Marquette; Jays earn No. 4 seed in Big East

MILWAUKEE — You just can’t give Marquette’s two leading scorers any space.

Because Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey are ready to shoot when they cross half court. The crafty and confident gunslingers are ready to shoot even when you’ve got a hand in their face. They’re both generously listed as 5-foot-11, but they’re ready to shoot while they’re dribbling around a screen despite the presence of an opposing big man.

You may not think they’re open. But they do.

And once they hit a couple and get confident? Howard was posing after his releases in Saturday’s 85-81 win over Creighton. He pounded his fist to his chest following one make. Rowsey banged one in from about 27 feet out and raised one finger to the sky before bobbing his head up and pointing to his wrist while CU called timeout. He had coach Steve Wojciechowski slapping the floor by the end of it.

Once those two get going you might as well position yourself along the baseline to pull the ball out of the net.

The Jays found themselves in that spot far too often Saturday afternoon.

“You really don’t want them to get started,” junior Khyri Thomas said. “They’re going to shoot it regardless. All you can really do is make it a good contest — make it a tough shot — and if it goes down, you’ll live with that one.”

Creighton knew it would have to be nearly flawless along the perimeter to contain two of the league’s best shooters.

The Jays couldn’t be late on closeouts. They had to communicate early and loudly on switches. They would have to extend their defense well beyond the 3-point line.

And they did that. But only for a little while. Mistakes piled up in the second half.

Marquette (18-12, 9-9), in need of a quality win to boost a flimsy NCAA tournament résumé, took advantage of them all, even the ever-so-subtle ones.

Howard buried all four of his 3-point tries after halftime. Rowsey knocked down 4 of 5 — including three straight in the final three minutes, emphatically extending a one-point lead to 79-73. Their onslaught pulled the Golden Eagles out of a double-digit hole, fired up a rowdy crowd in Marquette’s final game  at the Bradley Center and finished Creighton off late.

The Jays (21-10, 10-8), who ended the regular season tied for third in the Big East standings for the second straight year, could only shake their heads afterward.

The 3-pointer Howard hit to put his team up 61-58 with 9:31 left? CU’s lockdown defender was right there. Said Thomas: “I tipped the ball. It still went in.”

Howard had just made one with Thomas on his back and freshman Mitch Ballock leaping right at him.

And what about Rowsey’s bomb just before the shot clock buzzer sounded to give his team a 76-71 edge with 2:40  left? He pulled up with his feet touching the midcourt’s “M” logo. Marcus Foster nearly blocked that one. “Crazy how he hit it,” Foster said.

Marquette, ranked seventh nationally in 3-point shooting coming in at 41.4 percent, made 10 of 12 from 3-point range after halftime.

“Kind of unheard of,” CU coach Greg McDermott said. “Even if you’re in the gym by yourself.”

Creighton didn’t have the firepower to respond.

Every 3-pointer seemed to tilt the momentum further in Marquette’s favor. The announced crowd of 18,221 was roaring and rising to its feet as soon as the ball swished through the net. CU couldn’t answer.

In fact, the Jays failed to score on each of the seven possessions directly following the first seven made 3-pointers by Marquette after halftime. They had six missed shots and a turnover.

Their advantage, as large as 11 points in the opening moments of the second half, was extinguished on sophomore Sam Hauser’s 3-pointer at the 10:38 mark. Hauser’s two free throws gave the Golden Eagles the lead for good with 4:02 remaining.

“Their game goes better when their 3s start falling,” Foster said.

Foster had a chance to force overtime late. His potential tying 3-pointer with about 15 seconds left was blocked, though.

Four Marquette free throws sealed it from there. Rowsey and Howard, fittingly, were the ones who clinched it at the foul line. They combined for 30 points after halftime — 24 from behind the 3-point arc.

“You can’t give them any room,” Foster said. “Once you give them that room, it’s going up. And it’s most likely going in.”

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