Saturday, March 4, 2017

Marquette 91, Creighton 83: Johnson rises to the occasion on senior day

                                                      Photo Credit: Marquette Athletics

MILWAUKEE— In his final game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, Jajuan Johnson stole the show as the Marquette Golden Eagles (19-11, 10-8 Big East) closed out the conference slate in grand fashion with a regular season sweep of the Creighton Blue Jays (23-8, 10-8 Big East), 91-83.

18 of Johnson’s game-high 20 points came in the first half— highlighted by scoring eight of MU’s first 10 points of the game.

"(Jajuan) had a really aggressive mindset, which was great and can sense through his practices that he was really ready to play," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said.

Markus Howard’s impact came as the primary facilitator with a game-high nine assists, to go along with 18 points in 33 minutes.

The Golden Eagles continued their fiesta party from long-range as they went 14-of-28 (50 percent), highlighted by Johnson's 4-of-7 effort.

"We came into the game trying to run Marquette off the three-point line and they still got 28 upland made 14 of them," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "When (Jajuan) Johnson makes 4-of-7, that changes what you possibly can do and you pick and your choose spots on who to help off, but it is senior day and he stepped up and it made the difference in the game."

Khyri Thomas led Creighton in defeat with a career-high 23 points, on 9-of-16 from the field, to go along with seven rebounds and five assists.

Despite a two-handed dunk from Creighton’s Justin Patton to open the game, Marquette countered with 11 straight points, highlighted by Johnson’s eight.

The Bluejays called timeout at the 17:04 mark to regroup, but the Golden Eagles’ charge continued as their lead grew to 23-13 behind timely long-range makes from Sam Hauser and Andrew Rowsey.

The double-digit lead shrunk as Creighton pulled to within two at the 8:26 mark after a conventional three-point play from Patton off a mismatch on Howard in the paint.

Behind solid efforts on defense by Duane Wilson and Hauser, Marquette went on an 8-0 run to take its largest lead of the first half at 44-33.

Thomas kept Creighton in contention towards the end of the first half with a steal off Howard and an uncontested layup with no Marquette player in site as it went into halftime down 52-42.

Johnson left off in the second half with a layup to open Marquette’s scoring as they made four of their first five field goal attempts.

Facing their largest deficit of the game at 15 points, the Blue Jays responded with a 10-0 run, highlighted by a couple of long range makes from Thomas.

The effort would be nullified as Marquette made five straight field goals and increased its lead to 80-64 with 9:49 left and would not look back as it finished with 10 wins in conference play for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

"The big thing we have talked about in the last month is getting better," Wojciechowski said. "Our guys have done that and we have had an incredibly mature approach to practice and have come together as a true team. This is time of the year where you want to be playing your best basketball and our focus can't change."

Both teams return to action on March 9 in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden as the fourth seeded Golden Eagles and the fifth seeded Seton Hall Pirates meet at 1:30 p.m., while the Bluejays are the No. 6 seed and will play the third seeded Providence Friars at 8:30 p.m.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.