Handshake-gate:

Marquette seeks late run to extend NCAA streak

AP - Sports

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Marquette guard Jake Thomas got off the plane and immediately wanted to get back on a basketball court.

He was looking to get over the sting of the double-overtime loss this week to Providence, a defeat that didn't help the Golden Eagles' shaky chances of extending their run of eight straight NCAA tournaments.

Thomas and the other seniors want their final regular-season game, Saturday at home against St. John's, to be a turning point.

''Hopefully, my favorite memory will be turning my season around,'' Thomas said when asked to look back on his career. ''Hopefully, it's yet to come.''

At 17-13 overall and 9-8 in the Big East, Marquette faces a tough task returning to the NCAAs. Coach Buzz Williams' team had an opportunity to make a statement the past week on the road, but lost by 17 at Villanova before losing an 81-80 heartbreaker at Providence.

Forward Davante Gardner figures the Golden Eagles will need three wins, starting with Saturday against the Red Storm and two in the Big East tournament next week. St. John's (19-11, 9-8) will also be looking to beef up its postseason resume.

''Buzz brings it up here and there. Pretty much focus on winning. That's the answer for everything,'' fellow senior forward Jamil Wilson said. ''Just continue to win.''

It's something members of this class did a lot. Seniors Thomas, Wilson, Gardner and center Chris Otule - a sixth-year man - will each be honored before the Saturday morning game.

Last year, Marquette went to the NCAA regional finals before losing to Syracuse. That followed two consecutive trips to the regional semifinals.

Experienced up front with Gardner, Wilson and Otule, Marquette was the preseason pick to win the new-look Big East. Instead, it's been an up-and-down year.

The defense for the most part has been solid. The problems have come on the offensive end, with spurts of trouble scoring and a lack of consistency in the backcourt.

''Definitely, no one wants to go home early,'' Wilson said.

After shuffling the starting lineup much of the season, Marquette has settled on a starting five and a more defined rotation the last seven games.

Regardless of when he plays, Thomas is a key to offensive success. The team's best outside shooter provides balance to Gardner's bullish play inside when Marquette is at its best.

They may have to be over the next week for the Golden Eagles to get back to the NCAAs. Forget all the other stuff about RPIs and strength-of-schedule stats.

''For the players, we really don't look any of this stuff up. We have to win,'' Thomas said. ''Basically all it comes down to is winning.''

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