Following Saturday afternoon's confidence-building triumph over Syracuse, there were high hopes that YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles would start the second half of the Big East conference season with a bang, but, instead, Wednesday night's matchup with the Villanova Wildcats was much more whimper than roar. The game played out much like I thought it would, as 'Nova led by single digits for most of the contest but the outcome was never really in doubt. Marquette threatened to make a game of it at the end, but it wasn't happening, as MU's recurrent problems with rebounding and defense and generally uneven play paved the way for a discouraging 75-70 loss to the 'Cats.
Let's address what worked tonight:
- Marquette was getting punked in the first 30 minutes of the game, as 'Nova opened a nine-point halftime lead and extended the margin to 14 in the second half. But thanks to a fullcourt press and some skittish ballhandling by the 'Cats, Marquette kept chipping away, eventually trimming the lead to three at a couple points in the late-going. But late-game execution once again became an issue, as MU gave up an and-1 that pushed the lead to six and then drew up a bizarre play out of a timeout that resulted in a 25-footer clanker by Dwight Buycks. Game. Set. Good night now.
- Chris Otule dunked the ball. It was neat.
- Turnovers were an early bugaboo, but Marquette fixed that problem in the second half and only had 10 for the game.
And now for what didn't:
- Buycks has played with a lot of heart this year, pressed into duty at the point guard spot even though he's not a very good fit for that position. Junior Cadougan has made himself into a decent backup at the point, but he's got a ways to go before he's a competent Big East point guard. Tonight, Dwight and Junior got exposed by the Twin Coreys, who finished with 17 and 14, respectively, and did whatever they wanted to with token resistance.
- Not to be outdone, Marquette's bigs -- Jae Crowder, Otule, and Davante Gardner -- were completely overmatched by Mouphtaou Yarou and, especially, Antonio Pena in the first half, as 'Nova grabbed offensive rebound after offensive rebound and got second looks at the basket. Yarou was huge with 18 and 6, and Pena turned in an impressive 14-and-11 double-double.
- One other note on the bigs: quick, first-half fouls on Crowder and Otule led to a whole lot of Joe Fulce in the first 20 minutes. Fans of Joe though we are, Fulce is the Craig Counsell of Marquette: if he's getting big run, something's gone really, really wrong.
Darius Johnson-Odom couldn't get untracked tonight, try as he might, struggling to a 7-20 shooting night (and 1-6 from deep). It was a similar story for Jimmy Butler, who didn't shoot nearly enough in the first 30 minutes of the game following his dynamic performance on Saturday. Hampered by the fouls, Jae didn't do much, ending with nine quiet points, and Buycks had more turnovers than field goals made.
- Special mention goes to ESPNU's play-by-play announcer, Charlie Neal, who was apparently pressed into emergency duty tonight without the benefit of a pronunciation guide: Buycks was 'Dykes,' Crowder was 'Joe,' Otule was 'Oh-too-lee,' Pena was 'Pina' (like the colada) ... it was a masterful performance. I would've thought it was a Saturday Night Live sketch, if I didn't know better.
Awards? Only because we must:
Jimmy Butler Player of the Game: Uhhh. Well. I guess I could muster a case for Jimmy, who made 6 of 13 shots and hit a three, but he only had three rebounds and got to the line just twice and wasn't much of a factor for most of the game. DJO was off, Buycks was bad, Jae was MIA ... fine, I guess it's Jimmy, although this is essentially a Tee-Ball Participation Award tonight.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: The pickings are slim on this one, too: Vander had one nice drive to the hoop, but that was about it; Junior handed out one assist and got turnstiled routinely on the defensive end; and Gardner had two points and just one board in limited minutes. Again, mostly by default, we're going with our man Joe, who was quick on the trigger in the first half and finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds.
Up Next: Marquette takes the next week off before heading to sunny Florida for a game with the floundering South Florida Bulls. Tampa hasn't been kind to the Golden Eagles, so a win, no matter the margin, would be fantastic.