NEW YORK (AP) – Darius Johnson-Odom proved his coach wrong, and his coach is thrilled.
Johnson-Odom scored 11 points, including two big 3-pointers in the final minutes, and Marquette beat No. 20 West Virginia 67-61 on Wednesday night in the second round of the Big East tournament.
The Golden Eagles’ second-leading scorer at 16.2 per game and their most proficient 3-point shooter with 62 from beyond the arc entering the game, Johnson-Odom had missed six of his first eight shots from the field — and that included not making any of his three 3-point attempts.
“He’s a very special player, but he’s an even more special person, and maybe more so than any player I’ve coached, he senses when I’m mad at him,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “The same exact thing happened when we played at UConn. I’m mad at him, I yank him in and out of the game. He gives the typical player response, ‘I can’t get into the flow.’ But he tries to prove me wrong.
“Those two shots, you could argue, changed the game. Definitely changed the momentum.”
And they may have changed Marquette’s March plans, for sure.
The 11th-seeded Golden Eagles (20-13) advanced to the quarterfinals, where they will face third-seeded and 14th-ranked Louisville (23-8) on Thursday night.
Marquette came into the conference tournament considered the last of the 11 Big East teams that could get a bid into the NCAA tournament’s field of 68. It seems the wins over Providence and West Virginia have made that an almost certainty.
“I went out early again tonight, I was looking for someone on the selection committee. I didn’t see anybody,” Williams said in keeping his way of not answering the question about his team sealing their bid. “I thought they would be the best dressed here. I saw a lot of guys from Wall Street. I did not see anybody from the selection committee.”
Kevin Jones had 15 points for the Mountaineers (20-11), the defending tournament champions who went on to the Final Four.
West Virginia was 7 of 11 from 3-point range in taking a 36-29 halftime lead, but the Mountaineers were just 3 of 11 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“It’s been a yearlong problem, we just don’t make open shots,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of his team’s 6-for-27 effort from the field in the second half. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve said it, and said it and said it. We just don’t make open shots. We made some shots in the first half and then in the second half we didn’t make shots. We don’t have people who can drive it to the basket. That’s not the kind of guys we have, so we have to depend on making some shots.”
All eight teams in the quarterfinals have at least 20 wins and only Marquette is not ranked in the Top 25.
Junior Cadougan led Marquette with 15 points and five assists.
“I think Junior did a great job tonight, he played as hard as anybody,” Johnson-Odom said of his backcourt partner. “He controlled the tempo of the game on both ends of the court. When you see a kid like Junior who’s been through an Achilles’ tear, you just have to smile. He’s been working his butt off.
“Junior carried us, he controlled the game, he did a great job of doing it.”
Then there was Johnson-Odom’s big 3s that ended his shooting slump.
“My teammates do a great job of finding me on shots, and it’s my job to make ‘em, knock ‘em down,” he said. “We did a great job guarding and I think if we do that, it’ll be hard for teams to beat us.”
John Flowers had 11 points, and Darryl Bryant added 10 for the Mountaineers.
Neither team shined offensively over the final 10 minutes of the game.
Casey Mitchell’s 3 gave West Virginia a 51-48 lead with 11:06 to play, but that was the Mountaineers’ last field goal until Flowers’ reverse layup brought them within 61-57 with 1:45 to go.
Johnson-Odom gave Marquette the lead for good with a 3 with 4:44 left that made it 58-55. That was the Golden Eagles’ first field goal in almost 6 minutes.
Johnson-Odom didn’t wait long for his next 3, making one less than a minute later that gave the Golden Eagles a 61-55 lead.
“D.J.’s shots were big, but the reason we won the game was because we guarded in the second half,” Williams said.
Bryant made two free throws with 31.5 seconds to play to bring West Virginia within 64-61 and he stole the ball right away, but missed a wild shot and Marquette closed it out by making three of four free throws in the final 25.4 seconds.
Marquette lost to Georgetown in the semifinals last year and that was the team West Virginia beat for its first Big East tournament title. That was West Virginia’s third straight year of reaching the semifinals.
Marquette won the regular-season meeting with West Virginia, 79-74.
This is the third straight year the defending champion lost in its first game the next season. Many claim the byes and double-byes the better teams get are the reason it’s tough to repeat.
“I don’t think it worked against us,” Huggins said of the bye. “We played well the first half. If it worked against us, we wouldn’t have played well the first half. You shoot 22 percent in the second half, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to win in this league.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)