USA TODAY Sports
It's a loss in the record book, of course, but there was still plenty to like about Marquette's ferocious effort and valiant rally in the second half of its 71-69 overtime loss to Cincinnati.
My immediate reaction, upon glancing at my phone and seeing that YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles had dropped a 71-69 heartbreaker in overtime to the dastardly Cincinnati Bearcats last night*, was a Dude-esque: "This is a bummer, man. That is a bummer."
* We went to see "Lincoln," so I didn't get to see the game live. My review, if you're interested: I couldn't understand a single damn word Sally Field said, Tommy Lee Jones' scene with the other representative from Pennsylvania ("ree-pub-lee-can") should get its own award segment at the Academy Awards, and Daniel Day-Lewis should win all the Oscars (obviously) but I still want to see him star in a "Biodome" remake with Stephen Baldwin, just to see how good of an actor he really is.
But then I clicked on the boxscore and saw that Marquette had ripped off 50 points in the second half after mustering a paltry 13 in the first half, and then I watched the DVR of the game (note to self: set machine to record an extra hour-and-a-half for every Marquette game, because Marquette game), and I realized: final score notwithstanding, there were a lot of pleasant surprises in this game, especially considering the things we've seen from Marquette to this point.
- After what happened at Florida earlier this year, when MU limped through a lackluster first half and then took a knockout punch in the first five minutes of the second half, I wouldn't have been at all surprised to see Cincinnati sprint to a 20+ point lead after halftime and run Marquette out of the gym. But that didn't happen. Instead, we saw the Marquette team from last year that we came to know and love: getting down big, looking hopeless, and then somehow turning on the afterburners in the second half, answering every run with a bigger one of their own.
- Speaking of the second half: 'Nati played the most basic of zone defenses for the entire game, hugging the lane and daring Marquette to shoot from deep. MU responded by missing all its three-point attempts in the first half, and you figured we'd be in for more of the same (and, gulp, perhaps even a dose of Jake Thomas) in the second 20 minutes. WRONG, NON-BELIEVER: Marquette found the range on seven three-point attempts in the second half, including a staggering FIVE threes in the first eight minutes of the second half.
- And speaking of those five quick threes: if you had told me two years ago that Vander Blue would not only drill three triples in a game, but would hit them on back to back to back possessions (including one from 27 feet that never got more than two inches above the rim while it was in the air), I would have called you a witch and thrown a Hot Pocket at you.
- And speaking of Hot Pockets (just go with it): up until now, Davante Gardner, who looks like he's enjoyed a meatball H-Pocket or two in his day, has generally run hot or cold for an entire game. If he starts slowly, it's usually safe to conclude that the Ox won't contribute much for the rest of the game. Yesterday's contest provided an impressive break from that mold, as the Big Nickname shook off a bad first half (didn't score, called for a technical foul after getting arm-raked by David Nyarsuk) and finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while making only one field goal and hitting 13 free throws in the game's final 16 minutes (including overtime).
- While the offense wasn't great in the last five minutes of regulation, there was at least a recognition that MU would be best served by getting the ball to its best offensive player. That was Ox, who rewarded that show of faith by drawing foul after foul and calmly hitting his throws.
To be sure, this one will still go down as a loss in the history books, and there were still a lot of negatives, especially in that disastrous first half -- Marquette had no idea what to do with Sean Kilpatrick, even though, with Cash Wright sidelined with a bum knee, he was Cincinnati's only hope on offense; the zone offense in the first 20 was abysmal, consisting almost exclusively of perimeter passes and ugly three-point attempts; MU failed to capitalize on Nyarsuk and Cheikh Mbodj fouling out in regulation; something ain't right physically with Chris Otule, who limped up and down the court in his 12 minutes of run; the whistle-happy officials, who did their best to kill any flow in the game by calling 51 total fouls, stood by slackjawed while Gardner was brutalized in the post with 40 seconds left in overtime -- but, sometimes, the process is more important than the result. And the process in the second half yesterday was very, very encouraging.
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: I was surprised to see that Vander Blue needed 19 shots to net his 19 points yesterday, but then I remembered that he had a handful of shots blocked by the the Mbodj-Nyarsuk-Jackson triumvirate and had a couple of layups roll out. Still, Van brought his team back from the dead with his 9 points in 90 seconds in the early going of the second half, and he also chipped in eight boards, a steal, and hit 4 of 5 throws.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Hampered by foul trouble throughout, Jamil Wilson still found time to turn in a stat-stuffer special, finishing with six points (on a pair of pretty threes), eight rebounds (three on offense), three assists, and two blocks.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Sequence of the Game: We typically hand the Smoovie out to a single play in the game, but Junior Cadougan's effort on back-to-back plays with 13 minutes to go warrants mention: first, Cadougan swiped the ball from Titus Rubles under his own basket and found a well-positioned Steve Taylor for a lay-in, then Cadougan snared a lazy pass on the ensuing possession and went coast to coast for a layup that shaved Cincy's lead to seven and forced Mick Cronin to take a timeout.
Up Next: What's this? ANOTHER week off? It's like these cats don't understand I got a blog to run and need the content. Anyway, Marquette heads back to the BMO Harris Bradley Center for a date with Catholic 7 mate Providence next Saturday.