It was an SEC/Big East battle last night, as Marquette took on LSU in the first semifinal of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn. The match-up most came to see was an individual one between freshmen Ben Simmons – the Nation’s consensus best frosh, and likely best player – and Henry Ellenson, perhaps the Big East’s best newcomer.
Neither one disappointed.
Ben Simmons had the quietest 21 point, 20 rebound, 7 assist game ever recorded and it was not quite enough for LSU. Marquette got 19 points and 8 rebounds from Luke Fischer, 16 points and 11 rebounds from Ellenson and a crucial 16 points apiece from guards Jajuan Johnson and Duane Wilson, to eek out an 81-80 win.
LSU came out sluggish at the start, as Marquette jumped out to a 10-0 lead. However, Simmons began to assert himself and the Tigers got back into the game. Despite Ellenson picking up two first half fouls and playing only ten minutes, the Golden Eagles played with energy and shot 54% on their way to a 36-34 halftime lead.
Marquette controlled most of the second half, but LSU’s pressure defense rattled Marquette’s guards late. LSU took the lead on a Simmons driving layup with 20 seconds to play. But on the next possession, Jajuan Johnson was fouled driving to the basket and converted his two free throws to give Marquette the lead again with 11 seconds remaining.
LSU had one last chance to come away with the victory, but Jalyn Patterson could not connect on a desperation three-point attempt after a pass from Simmons.
“I threw it to Jalyn, I trust him a lot. He hit the game winning shot to win the National Championship when we were at Montverde,” Simmons said, referring to his high school days at Montverde Academy in Florida. “We have players who can step up and hit shots, but it just didn’t fall.”
As for the Golden Eagles, they got a much-needed win to improve to 2-2, after losing by 28 points versus Iowa in their last game.
“All of us felt bad about the way we performed in our last game and we really focused on our preparation,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the game. “We really tried to control the things that we can control and I think our guys did an outstanding job to beat a very talented team, a very good team.”
Marquette will play Arizona State in the Championship game. LSU (3-1) will face North Carolina State in the consolation game.
Follow Jamal Murphy on Twitter: @Blacketologist