Led by a 32 point, 10 rebound performance from freshman star Henry Ellenson, the Marquette Golden Eagles picked up a huge 75-69 victory over the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It's been an up and down Big East season for both teams, and Saturday's game could prove crucial for the NCAA Tournament hopes of each squad.
Both teams hot early
It was clear from the opening tip that this one would be an entertaining, high scoring affair. Neither team was missing much in the opening few minutes, and they found themselves tied 9-9 at the first media timeout. From there, the game quickly became a battle of runs as Marquette opened up a six point lead before the Bulldogs hit back with seven straight points of their own.
Ellenson comes to life
From there on out, the game became the Henry Ellenson show. The projected lottery pick scored nine straight points for the Golden Eagles, and never let up for the rest of the game. He had 18 of his 32 points in the first half, and seemed unstoppable.
Roosevelt Jones did not want to be outdone
Henry Ellenson was superb for the Golden Eagles, but was forced to battle Butler's Roosevelt Jones, who had 15 points. After an Ellenson jumper with 1:35 on the clock in the first half, it seemed that the Golden Eagles would head into halftime with a healthy lead. However, Jones scored five straight points including a buzzer beater from distance to send the teams down the tunnel all knotted up at 37-37.
Kelan Martin looks to take over
Jones and Butler sharpshooter Kellan Dunham each had 15 points, but didn't come close to leading their team in scoring. That honor belonged to Kelan Martin, who scored 27 points, with 17 coming in the second half. Although Jones and Dunham each made important baskets over the closing 20 minutes, Martin was the reason why Butler stayed in the game.
Ellenson nearly flawless, Carter brilliant
In the second period, Henry Ellenson hardly took a field goal which showed up in the box score. He got to the free throw line time after time, and wound up shooting 14-16 from the charity stripe on the day. In spite of putting in what was probably the best ever performance from a Marquette freshman, he did not have to carry the offensive load by himself.
All season long, Traci Carter has been a pass-first guard while struggling with his jump shot. After missing his first two three-pointers on Saturday, Carter finally found his stroke. He hit his next five from beyond the arc on his way to a 15 point performance, which earned him the Sixth Man of the Game award from the local area broadcasters.
Mano a mano down the stretch
Neither team ever lead by more than six points over the course of the second half, and they traded critical baskets as the crowd got more and more into the game. Over the last eight minutes, it seemed that every time Marquette made a basket the roof was about to come off the Bradley Center as the home support rose to their feet. Yet, huge baskets from Martin, Jones and Dunham kept the game tight and in doubt until the final minute.
It felt like Marquette had finally pulled away when Ellenson rebounded his own miss and made a put-back layup with 52 ticks on the clock to stretch their lead to 71-66. Yet, Martin came right back downcourt and hit a clutch three-pointer to cut the lead to two again. Back up the other end, Ellenson missed just his second free throw of the day before stretching the lead to three points.
Butler sprinted back down looking to tie the game, and got a look for Dunham, who may be the best pure shooter in the Big East. Yet, Haanif Cheatham, who was like a glove on the sharpshooter all day, affected Dunham's shot and forced a miss. Sandy Cohen corraled the rebound before being fouled, and the sophomore sunk his free throws to put the game out of reach.
What comes next?
With the victory, Marquette improves to 15-7 (4-5 Big East). They now face a daunting three game stretch in which they travel to Seton Hall on Wednesday, February 3rd before a trip to Xavier on Saturday, February 6th. They'll then return home to the Bradley Center for a tilt with Providence the following Wednesday. Meanwhile, the season continues to spiral out of control for Butler, who fall to 14-7 (3-6 Big East). They'll have what will feel like a do-or-die matchup at home against Georgetown on Tuesday evening before two winnable games against St. John's and Seton Hall back-to-back.