"If you force 19 turnovers and you have 24 free throw makes and only five turnovers, you're probably going to have a chance," Marquette's head coach Buzz Williams said.
Thomas played two of his best games against Xavier, who allows about eight threes per game. In the first game, he scored 17 points and sank five three-pointers in an 86-79 loss at the Cintas Center in early January. 11 of his 43 threes this season have come against the Musketeers.
Williams credited his junior guards Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo for spacing the floor and giving Thomas an opportunity to get open looks.
"I thought Todd and Derrick were great in creating space for Jake," Williams said. "You can say what you want about Jake, but if I had pom-poms, I'd be jumping up and down for him."
Xavier's head coach Chris Mack was astounded by Thomas' performance despite his team's emphasis on shutting him down.
"Jake Thomas makes shots that he doesn't take on film," Mack said. "I'm so glad he's a senior. We had a lot of respect for him after what he did against us last game, but he did a great job."
The Golden Eagles allowed Xavier to shoot 54 percent from the field and were out-rebounded by a 32-20 margin, but won the game in the turnover department.
Marquette forced 19 Musketeer miscues and scored 27 points off of those turnovers. Derrick Wilson had six steals alone and limited potential NBA first-round pick, Semaj Christon, to just 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting.
"You can't turn the ball over 19 times against a team that's starting to play its best basketball of the season and expect to win," Mack said.
Junior forward Justin Martin led Xavier in scoring with 20. Big man Matt Stainbrook jostled with Chris Otule and Davante Gardner all afternoon and scored 12 points, but fouled out with 3:12 left in the game after bumping Todd Mayo on a drive to the hoop.
"Our kids played well, but we couldn't just get out of our way in the first half," Mack said. "We settled down a little bit in the second half and started to make shots, only
Marquette had four players score in double figures, including Thomas. Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner scored 16 a piece—Gardner was a perfect 10-of-10 from the free throw line—and Todd Mayo added 13 points.
[Todd Mayo continued his string of strong performances]
The victory pulls Marquette into a third-place tie with Xavier at 7-5 in the Big East, but more importantly, was a reputable win for the NCAA tournament resume.
Williams said that his team will need to battle every night to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
"We kind of like to fight more than anything else," Williams said. "When we played St. John's, we didn't fight. We're starting to fight and that's kind of fun. All this does is put us in a position to be in a position."
The Golden Eagles will have an even greater opportunity on Wednesday night, as the 18th-ranked Creighton Bluejays visit the Bradley Center.