ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) - Marquette is on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, and coach Buzz Williams is paying attention to the results that affect his team’s postseason chances.
He also knows the games that matter the most involve the Golden Eagles.
“The antidote to all of it is to win,” he said, “because if you don’t win, then you’re not in the mix.”
That’s why Marquette’s 96-94 overtime victory at DePaul on Saturday was so important. The win against the last-place Blue Demons won’t do much for the Golden Eagles’ resume, but a loss would have been costly - especially with games coming up against Georgetown and No. 9 Villanova.
“I know everybody’s already discounted us out, but that’s somewhat been the story of my career and a lot of the careers of the kids that on our team,” Williams said.
Davante Gardner scored seven of his 22 points in overtime as Marquette (16-11, 8-6 Big East) picked up its fourth win in the last five games. Todd Mayo had 19 points, Jamil Wilson scored 18 and Chris Otule finished with 12 points after he was scoreless at halftime.
“It’s a huge game. Every game is important, especially coming down the stretch,” Wilson said. “There’s not anything that’s not too important, especially for us. It’s a road game, so that looks good. We’re capable of pulling one out, so it’s a good thing.”
Brandon Young had 29 points for the Blue Demons (10-18, 2-13), who have lost 10 straight. Freshman Billy Garrett Jr. scored a career-high 26 and Durrell McDonald added 13 points.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating after a game like this not to get the result that you want but that’s where it is,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “There’s only one choice: Keep pushing.”
Gardner had a key three-point play with 1:44 left in overtime, giving Marquette a 91-89 lead. Derrick Wilson added a layup and Gardner made two more free throws to make it a six-point game with 32 seconds left.
DePaul closed to 96-94 on Young’s layup with 6 seconds remaining and Gardner then threw the ball away. McDonald tried one last 3-pointer, but it was short and the referees ruled it came after the buzzer.
“There’s no way you can go ‘Oh, that’s a team that’s playing for third place and that’s a team that’s in last place.’ There’s no way you can say that,” Williams said, praising DePaul’s resiliency. “I genuinely respect those kids and coaches for the fight and resolve that they have.”
The Golden Eagles appeared to be on their way to narrow victory in regulation when Gardner and Jamil Wilson combined for three free throws to make it 82-79 with 8 seconds to go. But Garrett calmly drilled a tying 3-pointer from the wing with 2.6 seconds remaining.
“It was in the heat of the game and you just have to stay focused,” Garrett said.
Garrett pounded on his chest while the crowd cheered and Derrick Wilson made a 75-footer for Marquette that was waived off because Williams had called for a timeout, just adding to the bedlam.
The Golden Eagles then tried for a long pass down the court that was broken up, sending the game to overtime.
“Derrick said ‘Coach, we would have won the game if you wouldn’t have called timeout,’” Williams said. “Well considering you’ve made one shot today I didn’t think that from 85 foot you would make that one. Wow.”
It looked as if Marquette was going to put DePaul away when it opened the second half with a 12-1 run, grabbing a 56-42 lead on Juan Anderson’s layup with 15:21 to go. Otule had a backboard-shaking dunk and a pair of layups in the spurt.
But the Blue Demons turned up the pressure on defense and slowly chipped away at the deficit. Garrett’s 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock capped an 8-0 run and tied it at 68 with 6:23 remaining, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
DePaul missed its first 10 shots and was scoreless before DeJuan Marrero made his second free-throw attempt with 13:47 left, trimming Marquette’s lead to 7-1 and drawing a round of sarcastic cheers from the crowd. Garrett then hit a 3-pointer for DePaul’s first field goal, and the Blue Demons began to find some holes in the Golden Eagles’ stout defense.
Forrest Robinson made a 3-pointer and Garrett hit two foul shots to give DePaul a 28-27 lead with 5:11 to go. But Jake Thomas responded with consecutive 3-pointers and Mayo made two foul shots to restore the Golden Eagles’ seven-point advantage.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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