Big East Tournament: No. 8 Marquette squeaks by No. 9 Providence 78-75

With a history of fouling issues, Marquette senior center Chelsie Butler’s textbook defensive block could not have come at a better time for the Eagles.

With less than ten seconds left and Marquette up 76-75, Providence senior guard Karin Robinson drove into the lane and put up a shot, but Butler rejected the shot with a two-handed block, followed by two free throws to put the game away.

“All year one of the biggest things the coaching staff has said to me is having my hands straight up,” she said. “As she was bringing the ball down the court all that was in my head was ‘stay straight up and move my feet.”

This sent No. 8 Marquette into the Big East tournament quarterfinals as they defeated No. 9 Providence 78-75.

“Everybody made big plays,” head coach Carolyn Kieger said. “One thing we’ve been talking about all year is perseverance and not breaking, so I’m so proud of the team tonight.

Providence guard Tori Rule led the game with 30 points, while Marquette freshman Kenisha Bell led the Eagles with 21 points. Butler had 17 points and six rebounds.

The Friars started out strong, jumping out to an 11-4 lead before Marquette started to close back in on the lead. From there, Marquette controlled a portion of the first half and raced out to a lead of their own. They led by as much as 25-17 with 10:26 to go in the first half.

Providence responded down the stretch of the first half as they cut into the deficit and overtook the Eagles just in time for halftime. They led 44-42 at the break.

“I told them to stay confident and stay positive,” Kieger said. “We know this is a game of runs, they’re going to make theirs and we’re going to make ours.”

There were no massive swings in the second half like there were in the first. Rather, the game stayed tight as the second half wore down. The largest lead of the half was the Friars up 73-67 with 5:35 to go in the game.

The Eagles slowly cut into the lead as the Friars went cold from the field. Providence went 1-of-11 from the field in the final minutes. However, it wasn’t until there was 43 seconds left that Marquette finally notched up the score at 75-75. The teams traded possessions until Bell was fouled on a layup with nine seconds left.

“At first I was thinking that I shot it too soon because we’ve always talk about if we’re in a situation like that, we want to get the last shot,” Bell said. “I just knew that knocking down the free throws was all that mattered.”

Bell knocked down the first free throw to put the Eagles up 76-75 as Providence called a timeout. After the teams came back out, Bell missed the second free throw and the Friars came charging back the other way and it was Butler’s block that kept Marquette in the lead. She was fouled and knocked down two free throws to put the Eagles up for good, 78-75.

With the win, Marquette advanced to the Big East quarterfinals, where they will play top seeded Seton Hall Sunday at 1 p.m. They’ve also won five of their last nine games with the victory.

“That’s something we’ve talked about all year,” Butler said. “The best teams peak in March and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.”