Marquette-West Virginia Preview
By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- West Virginia's Kevin Jones may be the favorite to win Big East player of the year honors, but Marquette's Jae Crowder is making a push to be considered.
Crowder and the 10th-ranked Golden Eagles look for their first-ever victory in Morgantown and fifth in a row overall when they face Jones and the Mountaineers on Friday night.
In a matchup featuring the top two scorers in the Big East in Jones, who averages 20.3 points and a league-best 11.2 rebounds, and Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom (18.7 points), Crowder will try to continue his push for postseason honors.
He has averaged 26.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the last three games for the Golden Eagles (23-5, 12-3) and has scored at least 20 in five of his last seven contests.
After being named conference player of the week Monday, Crowder had 27 points and seven rebounds in an 82-65 win over Rutgers on Wednesday. He went 11 of 14 from the field and added four steals and three blocked shots.
"He's playing at a very high clip," coach Buzz Williams said. "His efficiency numbers are staggering. He's in a really good space emotionally, physically and mentally right now."
Led by Crowder and Johnson-Odom, who has scored 20 or more points in four straight games, the Golden Eagles have won four in a row and 11 of 12. They have already earned a first-round bye for the Big East tournament and are looking to secure a top-four finish in the conference, which would give them an automatic berth in the quarterfinals.
Marquette is tied for second in the league, two games ahead of Georgetown and South Florida with three remaining. With the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bulls, the Golden Eagles can clinch a double-bye with a victory Friday.
"If you can get the double-bye, the chance of winning the tournament are much higher," Crowder said. "Last year, we were on the other end of it and had to play right away. We want to change that this year."
The situation is much more desperate for West Virginia (17-11, 7-8), which is 1-6 against ranked opponents.
The Mountaineers have lost three of four and six of eight. They shot a season-worst 31.5 percent in a 71-44 defeat at Notre Dame on Wednesday.
West Virginia was only down two at the break, but the Irish went on a 17-4 run to start the second half as they outscored the Mountaineers 41-16 over the final 20 minutes. West Virginia shot 6 of 27 (22.2 percent) in the second half.
"It's frustrating but we have to learn how to play through it," Jones said. "We did not. We kind of gave up at a certain point. That is not acceptable no matter how bad we are losing and no matter how many shots they are making. We can never give up and we did."
Jones scored 15 points and had eight rebounds. He's averaging 16.8 points the last four contests after putting up 22.9 per game in the previous nine.
West Virginia has lost three straight at home. It last lost four in a row in Morgantown during the 2002-03 season.
The Mountaineers have won all four home games against Marquette, but the Golden Eagles defeated them twice last season, including in the conference tournament by a 67-61 score March 9.
Updated February 23, 2012