How do you solve a problem like the Pitt Panthers, who came into yesterday's contest holding opponents to around 54 points a game, 0.87 points per possession, obliterating the opposition on the glass on both ends of the floor, and having won seven of eight games following an overtime loss to Marquette on January 12?
It's easier said than done, of course, but YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles made it look pretty darned easy yesterday afternoon in their 79-69 dismantling of the critically-acclaimed, statistically-impressive Panthers.
(1) Shoot the lights out. MU hit 21 of 35 two-point attempts (60%), showed restraint from deep in making 5 of 11 three-point attempts (45%), and finished the day with a blistering 56.5% shooting percentage and a staggering 62% eFG%. Led by Vander Blue's quietly-efficient 7-for-8 shooting, Marquette wound up scorching the nets for 1.27 points per possession ... and all that was after what was a comparatively chilly second half: in the first twenty minutes, MU managed 1.53 points per possession and 71.2% eFG%. Ho-hum.
(2) Own the glass. I'm still not exactly sure how it happened, but Marquette bludgeoned Pitt on the backboards yesterday. MU won the battle of the glass 31-23, and though Pitt snagged 12 offensive rebounds (which wasn't at all surprising, given that the Panthers came into the day corralling 41% of their own misses), Marquette wrangled 10 of its own and didn't let too many of Pitt's second chances come back to bite them. The fact that Pitt was content to chuck early and often from deep certainly didn't hurt anything, as the Panthers connected on just 7 of 21 three-point attempts.
(3) Make more free throws than they attempt. Slicing through Pitt's defense with relative (and somewhat shocking) ease and attacking the rim at will, Marquette got to the foul stripe early and often, sinking its first ten attempts from the line and finishing the day 22-29 after some late-game hiccups (more on that in a bit) while Pitt hit 12 throws in 16 attempts.
(4) Answer every run with a bigger one of your own. Marquette was up 2 at the under-12 timeout of the first half, and over the next four minutes put together a 10-2 run to seize a 10-point lead with a little more than seven minutes to go. Pitt responded with 7-0 run of its own to cut the lead to three, but Marquette blew open the game with a 14-4 run to close the half, highlighted by three three-pointers (one each from Trent Lockett, Blue, and Jamil Wilson) and three free throws from Todd Mayo. Then, whenever Pitt was threatening to make things interesting in the second half, MU found a little extra gas in the tank, be it in the form of a tip-in from Ox, or a dunk from Jamil followed by a steal and bucket from Mayo, or Jamie Dixon getting whistled for a technical foul after his team grabbed an offensive rebound (still don't understand what was going on there). The closest Pitt could get was a deficit of nine with 38 seconds left.
(5) Don't shoot yourself in the foot. The box score shows that Marquette ended the day with 12 turnovers, but that doesn't tell the entire story, as a handful of those boo-boos came in the helter-skelter last three minutes of the contest. Things got a bit sideways there at the end, as Marquette was content to run out the clock but the Panthers weren't obliging. I can't remember the last time I saw a team commit two 10-second violations in a game, but MU managed two in the last couple minutes of the game, lollygagging in the backcourt for one and Big Smoove-ing into another (when Davante Gardner hilariously tried to dribble the ball behind his back as he neared half court, had the ball poked away -- obviously -- and then Junior fell on top of the ball like it was a live grenade).
ANYWAY, those shenanigans aside, Marquette took excellent care of the rock, turning the ball over just seven times in the first 36 minutes of the contest. After Monday's 19-turnover debacle against Georgetown, that was a welcome development.
See? Putting together a tour de force performance like that isn't so much to ask, is it?
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: When I get some free time, I need to update my Vander-Blue-as-Neo picture from last year, because after his latest sterling effort -- 19 points, two hits from three-point land, two steals, two assists, and six rebounds -- it's clear that we've moved past "he's starting to believe" territory.
HE IS THE ONE.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Since Vander wouldn't stop talking about him in the post-game press conference, Jamil Wilson's effort really doesn't qualify as an "undersung" performance. Still, his 13-point, 8-rebound tally was enough to inspire a "he's the smartest player I've ever coached and I want my daughter to marry him and make a million babies" gushing from his head coach after the game, so we'll make an exception and give the award to Jamil today.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: I hate to keep making exceptions, but this was too awesome not to note: in the first half, motivated by forces unknown, Buzz Williams unleashed the OXTULE, a formidable front line featuring Chris Otule, Gardner, and Jamil Wilson. It's probably the biggest lineup Marquette's used since Robert Jackson, Scott Merritt, and Todd Townsend were holding down the 3-4-5 spots for the Final Four team, and I'll be damned if it didn't actually work, at least for a couple minutes, as Pitt was fairly flummoxed by the heft in the lane.
Up Next: Your road-weary warriors are back on the street, this time venturing to the Prudential Center on Tuesday night for the year's second meeting with the struggling Pirates of Seton Hall.