Marquette tops Denver in thriller, claims BIG EAST crown

Photo courtesy DU Lacrosse

Powered by a seven-goal second half, the No. 19 Marquette University Golden Eagles topped the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers for the first time in the short, 4-year history of Marquette lacrosse. The Eagles held Denver’s star attackman Connor Cannizzaro without a goal for the first time in almost 40 games and made life difficult for DU’s star FOGO by winning 12-of-23 at the X.

After weather delayed the start of the game by 30 minutes, Marquette jumped out to a 1-0 lead before another 30-minute lightning delay with 12:01 left in the opening quarter. When the game finally restarted, Denver took control of the game scoring seven of the next eight goals.

“I thought we played really well in the second quarter and got the momentum,” DU head coach Bill Tierney said. “The third quarter has become our quarter. A week ago we outscored them 6-0 in the third and they turned that around to the exact opposite. You can’t tell what goes on.”

By halftime, the Pioneers were up 7-2 and it looked like Denver was going to cruise to their third straight BIG EAST Championship. In the first half, DU dominated the groundball battle, 22-9 and controlled possession for almost the entire second quarter.

The second half was a different story altogether. Marquette came out of the locker room with a renewed sense of purpose and turned the tables on the Pioneers. By the end of the third quarter, the Golden Eagles had reclaimed the lead and the Pioneers were on their heels. Tierney took timeouts at strategic and logical times, but all the adjustments in the world couldn’t stop Marquette.

“It was exactly the same [as the first half],” Tierney said. “They weren’t sliding through us and we weren’t beating them. But that happened last week and we came up with some goals. Last week we had more possession. It was harder for them last week to make a run like they did because we were winning every faceoff.”

The Pioneers did come back to tie it thanks to a great individual effort by Zach Miller. Miller’s two straight goals in the fourth quarter gave the Pioneers life and ended Marquette’s 7-goal run.

Despite tying the game at 9 with 12:19 left in the game, Denver couldn’t muster anything offensively. Marquette’s ground ball and faceoff dominance in the second half prevented DU’s high-powered offense from retaking the lead.

Throughout most of the fourth quarter, DU goalie Alex Ready made four very important saves to keep the game tied and within reach for Denver. Time after time, DU’s defense was caught out of position and Ready was there to bail them out.

With 5:55 left, Marquette broke the 9-9 tie and never looked back. Even though the Pioneers were able to force a few key turnovers late in the game, Marquette goalie Cole Blazer played well. He forced a couple DU turnovers and made a key save late to keep the Pioneers from tying the game.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we had a chance to come back the way [Denver was] facing off,” Marquette head coach Joe Amplo said. “I just wanted to see our team leave everything on the field.”

The Pioneers’ best chance to tie the game came late in the game with just 53 seconds left. After taking the ball away from Conor Gately behind DU’s net, the Pioneers took a timeout. Upon restart, the Pioneers settled into their pass-happy offense looking for the best shot to tie the game. With about 20 seconds left, before DU could get a shot on net, the Golden Eagles forced DU’s fourth turnover of the quarter and ran out the clock to clinch the 10-9 victory.

In reality, the result of this game means very little to the Pioneers’ goal of repeating as National Champions, but Marquette needed to win this game to keep their season alive and earn the BIG EAST’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Thanks to the wild results across college lacrosse, including No. 2 Brown’s loss to Harvard, DU will likely still be a top three or four seed in the national tournament. The top eight seeds host a first round game at campus sites, so it is still probable that the Pioneers will host an NCAA tournament game next weekend at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium.

“We have a chance to be a No. 1 team and play against a team that has to play on Wednesday,” Tierney explained of his team’s NCAA Tournament prospects. “You never know how this committee works, so who knows what will happen. We know we’re in the tournament and there’s a good chance we’ll be playing at home next week.”

The NCAA Tournament Selection Show is Sunday evening on ESPNU at 7 PM MT.