March Madness: Jones, Kolek lead No. 2 seed Marquette past No. 15 seed Western Kentucky 87-69

March Madness: Jones, Kolek lead No. 2 seed Marquette past No. 15 seed Western Kentucky 87-69

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kam Jones and Marquette kept pushing the ball up the floor, and eventually the shots started to fall.

Having Tyler Kolek back definitely helped.

Jones scored 28 points and Kolek made a successful return from an oblique injury, helping No. 2 seed Marquette rally for an 87-69 victory over No. 15 seed Western Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

The Golden Eagles (26-9) trailed 43-36 at halftime, but they overwhelmed the Hilltoppers in the second half. They used a 15-2 run to open an 87-67 cushion on the way to their second consecutive first-round victory in the NCAA tourney.

After a mistake-prone start featuring eight turnovers and 39% shooting, Marquette went 20 for 36 from the field in the final 20 minutes and committed just two more turnovers. The Golden Eagles also clamped down defensively on the Hilltoppers.

“That was happening in the first half because they were more aggressive than us,” Jones said. “Coach (Shaka Smart) told us before the second half that the more aggressive team is going to win the game, and we really wanted to come out and be aggressive on defense. That opened up a lot of stuff on offense.”

Jones scored 18 in the second half. Kolek had 18 points and 11 assists — matching Dwyane Wade’s school record for assists in an NCAA Tournament game — in his first game since Feb. 28. He had 10 assists in the second half.

“Once I hit the floor, (there were) some obvious jitters because I haven't played in three weeks,” Kolek said. “But I think 37 minutes, most minutes in a game, I thought I did alright with the win.”

Next up for Marquette is the Florida-Colorado winner on Sunday in the second round of the South Region. The Golden Eagles are going for the program's first Sweet 16 berth since 2013 after losing in the second round last year as a No. 2 seed.

Tyrone Marshall scored a career-high 21 points for WKU (22-12), which seized momentum from Marquette midway through the first half in its first NCAA appearance since 2013. But the Hilltoppers shot 33.3% (11 for 33) from the field in the final 20 minutes.

“We gave them some open looks where we weren't connected enough defensively with our communication, and they got going,” first-year WKU coach Steve Lutz said. “When they get going, they're hard to stop.”

Jones made 5 of 10 from long range and 10 of 16 overall, and Kolek was 7 of 13 with a pair from long range. Those 3s came on his first two shots, adding to the boost he provided with his presence alone.

“Fortunately, Tyler and Kam kept us afloat,” Smart said. “We were fortunate to only be down seven at the half.”

Marquette was up 28-19 with 7:52 left in the first half when Western Kentucky started to take over. Kentucky transfer Dontaie Allen entered and quickly sank consecutive 3s 42 seconds apart, and Marshall added two as the 'Toppers surged into the break.

SECOND TO ONE

Kolek has 430 assists, passing Sherman Douglas for second on the Big East Conference career list. He is 25 away from passing Vincent Council for the top spot.

STAYING ON POINT

Marquette entered the game as one of the nation's best in turnover margin and finished plus-8 in that category while scoring 21 points off 18 WKU turnovers.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness