PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - After being picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll, No. 15 Marquette finds itself challenging for a conference title with one game remaining.
Vander Blue pointed to Tuesday night's 60-54 victory over Rutgers as an example of why that is.
``Nobody expected us to do anything,'' said Blue, who had 22 points and hit the game-clinching free throws after struggling for several games. ``I like coming on the road and stealing wins like that. Nobody thought we could come out on the road and win games like this but we all stick together. None of this would be possible if it wasn't for all of us.''
The Golden Eagles (22-7, 13-4 Big East) fell behind 3-2 1:05 into the game, and did not get the lead back until Jamil Wilson hit a 3-pointer with 3:05 remaining.
In between, Rutgers (13-15, 4-13) maintained leads between three and 12 points, the largest coming at 35-23 early in the second half. But the Knights, who got 11 points from Myles Mack and 10 from Jerome Seagears, did not score over the final 2:38 and had just one field goal in the final 7:45.
``This has been our Achilles' heel all year, not being able to close out games,'' Rutgers forward Austin Johnson said. ``We definitely have to get better at that heading into the Big East tournament if we want to be successful.''
Each time Marquette got close Rutgers answered but, with the score 50-43, the Eagles went on a 12-2 run to take their first lead since 2-0. Wilson, who had all 10 of his points in the second half, hit a 3-pointer to make it 55-52 and Marquette held on to keep pace in the Big East with Georgetown and Louisville.
At one point in the second half, Eagles coach Buzz Williams subbed five for five in order to get some energy into his team.
``I was trying to get something going,'' Williams said. ``I thought at that point in the game, it was the hardest we had played, and I thought we were in a pretty good groove. But I thought we needed new life, we needed new energy. We were still playing from behind and thought the only chance that we had was to keep running guys in and out.''
After Wilson's 3-pointer, Seagears answered for Rutgers to make it 55-54. Junior Cadougan, who had 10 points for Marquette, made one of three foul shots. But the Knights' Dane Miller missed two free throws with 1:08 left.
After a Marquette miss Rutgers had possession with 32.8 seconds left before Seagears dribbled off his foot. Blue grabbed the ball out of a scramble, got fouled and hit both shots to put Marquette up 58-54 with 13.9 seconds left and the Eagles would hold on for their seventh straight win over the Knights.
``I knew me and Trent (Lockett) were both breaking for the ball,'' Blue said. ``I was thinking `Dive for the ball' but I saw him get on the floor first. I knew it wouldn't be smart for me to dive as well. It was basically who wanted it more and we came out with it. That was a big play for us.''
The Knights shot 46 percent (23 for 50) after hitting 58.3 percent (14 for 24) in the first half. Marquette shot 60 percent (12 for 20) in the second half to finish at 45.8 percent (22 for 48).
After a putback by Lockett opened the game, Seagears hit a 3-pointer and Rutgers would lead for the next 35-plus minutes. An 11-4 run put the Knights up 29-19 and they led 31-21 at halftime.
``Rutgers dominated the half on both ends of the floor,'' Williams said. ``I don't necessarily think in the second half, because we were running guys in and out, that that was the difference in the game. But I do think in the second half our energy was much better and more closely matched how they had been playing.''