Thanks to an important six-goal third quarter during which the No. 1 University of Denver Pioneers (12-1, 5-0 Big East) held the No. 19 Marquette University Golden Eagles (9-4, 4-1 Big East) scoreless, DU won their third straight Big East regular season championship. As a result, the Pioneers will enter next weekend’s Big East Tournament as the number one seed.
Throughout most of the 2016 campaign, Denver has had a tendency to come out of the locker room and dominate the opponent early. However, over the past two weeks against Providence a week ago and against Marquette this weekend, the Pioneers started slowly in the first half before pouring it on and pulling away in the second half, much like they did in 2015.
Saturday’s game felt more like one played by the 2015 Pioneers than the 2016 squad. After a flat, sloppy opening quarter, Denver was down 3-2 and despite the Pioneers’ advantage in possession, Marquette capitalized on their fewer opportunities. In fact, even star FOGO Trevor Baptiste had a tough start to the snowy and rainy afternoon going 2-for-6 at the X in the first quarter.
“We always want to come out and kind of catch our stride and today we didn’t do that,” senior attackman Jack Bobzien said. “You have to play a full 60 minutes whether that’s good, bad or ugly.”
Though the Pioneers turned things around for the most part in the second quarter outscoring Marquette 4-3 to head into halftime tied at 6, the typical dominant Pioneers hadn’t shown themselves at Peter Barton. Star attackman Connor Cannizzaro certainly woke up in the second quarter scoring two of his four goals to extend his goal streak to 38 games, but the Pios were unable to pull away from the Golden Eagles.
“We knew they were going to be a good opponent,” Cannizzaro said. “They’ve always given us a tough fight every time.”
Apparently, the DU coaching staff said something quite poignant in the locker room at halftime as the Pioneers came out of the break to score six unanswered goals to blow the game wide open. By the end of the third quarter, Cannizzaro had scored his fourth goal of the afternoon and Zach Miller had tallied his fourth assist and fifth point in the game to give DU a commanding 12-6 lead.
“That third quarter was really good,” Tierney said. “I give credit to the coaches and just the guys. We went into this game wanting to concentrate, wanting to be confident, but it’s a championship game, you’re going to make mistakes. A couple of our guys didn’t play their best games today.”
All of a sudden it felt like 2015 all over again and the Pioneers were rolling right along toward another championship.
Marquette wouldn’t go away quietly, though. Despite getting outscored 6-0 and outshot 11-4 in the third quarter, the Golden Eagles came out firing in the regulation quarter and scored the quarter’s first three goals. With 6:13 left in the game, the Pioneers’ once commanding six-goal lead had been cut in half and a DU victory was once again in doubt.
“Maybe you get into a ‘hang-on’ mood, I’m not sure,” Tierney said. “I don’t think we did, but maybe we did. Credit to Marquette. They kept plugging.”
Denver ultimately regrouped and held Marquette off for the remaining six minutes adding two more goals, including an empty-net tally by Tyler Pace to win 14-11.
“Marquette is a really good lacrosse team,” Tierney said. “Now I see why they beat Villanova the way they did (11-3). They’re just a really well-coached good lacrosse team.”
Despite turning the ball over a surprising 15 times to Marquette’s 7, Denver left Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium with an important victory to claim the Big East regular season title and secure the number one seed for next weekend’s conference tournament in Denver.
Baptiste won 19-of-28 faceoffs for a 68% win percentage; goalie Alex Ready made 8 saves; Denver dominated the groundball battle 32-15; the Pioneers’ clearing efforts have gotten much better as they successfully cleared 11 times of 12 attempts; the Pios had just two man-up chances and they converted once on a Brendan Bomberry goal; nine different Pioneers tallied a goal; Cannizzaro tallied his 24th career hat trick and his 8th on the season.
Big East Tournament
Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium
Thursday, May 5
Denver vs Providence
7:00 PM MT
CBS Sports Network
Saturday, May 7
Marquette/Villanova vs Denver/Providence
2:30 PM MT
Fox Sports 2