No. 22/18 Gonzaga 66, Marquette 63

Based on Marquette's recent history in pre-season tournaments, this was not how you would have thought this year's trip to Kansas City would end up.  In case you're new to the program, or just forgetful, MU's previous nine appearances in pre-season tourneys went like this:

2001 Great Alaska Shootout - Champions

2002 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic - Beat Villanova in Madison Square Garden

2003 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic - beat St. John's in Madison Square Garden

2004 Black Coaches Association Classic - Champions

2005 Great Alaska Shootout - Champions

2006 CBE Classic - Champions

2007 Maui Invitational - Runners up

2008 Chicago Invitational Challenge - Runners up

2009 Old Spice Classic - Runners up

So needless to say, going to this year's CBE and getting sent home with 2 losses was not the plan for this year's squad.  But after a 63-60 loss to No. 22/18 Gonzaga, that's exactly what they got.

Both teams traded blows in the early going, and it looked like we were going to have a shoot-out on our hands.  But Gonzaga, led by some lights out shooting by Steven Gray and a suddenly rejuvenated Elias Harris, took command with about 4 minutes left in the first half.  By half they had extended the advantage to nine, at 42-33, and were shooting 64% from the field or something silly like that.

But in the second half the Zags did what they could to let Marquette back into the game.  Their blistering hot shooting began to tail off, and Marquette began to figure out ways to attack the zone defense that had stifled them in the first half.  But despite that, MU just didn't seem like they were going to be able to take advantage.   The deficit remained in the 8-11 point range until about 4 minutes left in the game.  Then Jimmy Butler pretty much put the team on his back and whittled the lead down to two at 65-63.  But that was as close as it would get.  Marquette had a chance to tie with 2.5 seconds left, but Butler's desperation heave went begging.  Gonzaga survives 66-63, and MU heads home from KC bummin'.

Some notes:

  • Thank God for Jimmy Butler.  Much like last night, it was Butler that pulled the game back from the brink.  He led the team with 22 points and 6 boards, and scored 13 of Marquette's last 17 points.  He picked the team up off the deck and nearly willed them to victory all by his lonesome.  If anyone is wondering whose team this is, Jimmy says you needn't wonder any further.
  • Aside from Jimmy, there wasn't a whole lot to cheer about - especially on the offensive end.  The team as a whole shot only 38% from the field.  DJO was 4-12, Vander Blue 1-7, Dwight Buycks 3-8, and so on.  And every time that Marquette got within striking distance, and one big shot may have tilted the scales in their favor, they were unable to find one.  Butler finally hit one with under a minute left, but Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom both had looks that could have turned the tide way earlier.
  • Gonzaga switched to a zone late in the first half, and that totally threw a wrench into the Marquette offense.  It was the first time that a team had thrown a zone at us and had the quality players to make it work.  A lot of perimeter passing and long jumpers late in the shot clock.  MU looked lost trying to attack the zone for a good 14 minutes of game time until they finally started to get some offense working and Gonzaga switched back to man.
  • If shooting wasn't the deal breaker, rebounding certainly was.  MU got absolutely destroyed on the glass, especially the offensive glass.  Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 42-26, and 17-6 on offensive boards.  Gonzaga's Robert Sacre alone had 7 offensive rebounds.  At one point the Zags held a 15-4 advantage in second chance points.  I don't know what the final tally was, but I know it was a wider margin than that. 
  • Memo to Marquette big men and those that mean to evaluate them:  There is more to being a serviceable big man than just having good post offense.  Like defending and keeping the opponents off the boards - especially offensive boards.  I don't think Otule wasn't as bad as some would have you believe, but he wasn't good.  He got worked down low and battled fouls (one of which was an incredibly dumb one - 35 feet from the basket) most of the game. 
  • Did I mention how much I hate giving up offensive boards.  Marquette's defense actually tightened up in the second half.  They quieted Gray and Harris - who combined for 30 points in the first half, but only 9 in the second - and forced the Zags into tough shots late in the shot clock.  But then they would just grab the offensive rebound, reset the offense, and get a bucket.  It was downright maddening.
  • I'm sure there are more points that I'm forgetting, but it's late, I'm tired and my brain is already beginning to purge the memory of this game.  Feel free to point out what I missed in the comments.

Awards then:

Jimmy Butler Player of the Game:  For the second straight night it goes to Jimmy Butler.  Despite a quiet stretch early in the second half, Jimmy did everything he could to give Marquette a chance to pull this one out. 

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game:  I am having real trouble picking someone to fill this spot tonight. From what I saw Butler was the only one worthy of awards tonight so, what the hell, I'll give him this one too.

Up next:  Marquette travels across the street to take on UW-Milwaukee in the first "road game" in their recently renewed series.  I fully expect to see a house full of MU fans at the US Cellular Arena for an 8:00 tip Saturday night.  After picking up a big win against Northern Iowa last weekend, UWM got beat by Western Michigan tonight.  So it appears both schools will be trying to erase bad memories when they get together Saturday night.  I assume I'll see you all there.

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