After so many years of trekking down to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats, Thursday night YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles travelled to the Queen City for their first ever Big East matchup with Xavier. Marquette was once again attempting to secure a win over someone that could pass as a quality win come March (no offense, George Washington... and all offense intended, DePaul). Unfortunately, the tale in this game was much the same as it was in so many others: Golden Eagles get behind, Golden Eagles mount furious comeback, Golden Eagles ultimately fall short and are defeated.
It was a bit of an odd first half. Jake Thomas sparked Marquette in the opening minutes, by burying his first two 3-point attempts as MU ran out to an early lead. But then the whistles came. Before the game was 5 minutes old, Jamil Wilson had picked up 2 fouls and was sent to the bench - not to return until the second half. Less than 2 minutes later, Derrick Wilson picked up his second foul... on a technical, no less. A minute after that, Jake Thomas was on the pine with 2 fouls.
From there, it was a parade of lineups that you would have never thought you would see in a conference game, as Buzz tried to cover the minutes for his foul saddled starters. All 3 freshman, and Steve Taylor saw time in the first half. And it seemed to be working. When Steve Taylor hit a 3-pointer (yes, you read that right), with 8 minutes left in the half, MU had a 4 point lead.
Things got a little sideways from there. Xavier took advantage of lackluster MU defense, scoring repeatedly in transition, by simply beating the Golden Eagles down the floor - even after made baskets. They also cashed in on some poor MU rebounding, grabbing 7 offensive rebounds in the first half. To go along with that, the Golden Eagle offense went ice cold and went scoreless for more than four minutes. Add it all up and Xavier had turned that 4 point deficit into a 6 point halftime lead. Thankfully, due to the DePaul - Butler game going into double OT, most Marquette fans didn't actually have to watch the majority of the first half.
The second half began about as well as the first half ended. Xavier scored the first 6 points of the half to extend their advantage. It wasn't until they were down 12 that Marquette began to get their feet back under them. Jake Thomas scored 5 quick points, to spark what would be the beginnings of the comeback effort.
Behind continued hot shooting by Thomas, a few 3-pointers from unlikely sources (namely John Dawson and Deonte Burton), a healthy dose of Davante Gardner, and a renewed defensive effort, Marquette was able to claw its way back into this game. And with just under 5 minutes left, Deonte Burton got a bucket to tie the game at 69. But Marquette's moment atop that proverbial hill, was short lived. Semaj Christon, who was an absolute STAR for the Musketeers, responded with a pair of quick 3-pointers. The ensuing 8-0 run would be enough to hold MU at bay for the last few minutes of the game.
- Jamil Wilson's evening was... a disappointment, we'll say. The senior was a non-factor, after being saddled with 2 early fouls. Even after returning in the second half, he tallied another foul before finally scoring a bucket. Then 30 seconds after breaking into the scoring column, he picked up his 4th foul and went back to the bench. He returned to make a 3-pointer with about 6 minutes left, and appeared as though he was ready to get things rolling just in time to aid the comeback effort. But, less than a minute later, foul number five. Final line: 5 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 5 fouls, in just 12 minutes of action. Thanks for playing, Jamil.
- There will be a lot of talk about John Dawson, between now and Saturday. The freshman was forced into duty, and turned in a serviceable performance. He differentiated himself from Derrick Wilson, by not being shy about shooting from long range (6 3pt attempts) and actually making a few (2 made 3pt FGs). There is sure to be some discussion about how Buzz should utilize Mr. Dawson going forward.
- Speaking of Derrick: As much as I rag on him, I think him being on the floor in the first half would have helped to reduce some of those sprint-out baskets that Xavier was scoring at will. I think some of the guys - especially the frosh - were getting caught a little flat footed, and the X-Men were just running right by them, for easy baskets.
- Free throws: Xavier shot 41. Marquette shot 13. And those numbers aren't overly inflated by fouling at the end of the game. Maybe 8 of those attempts came in the last minutes of the game. Not saying anything by it, just pointing it out as an interesting factoid.
- Davante Gardner led MU in scoring with 19 points, but only 2 came in the last 6 minutes of the game - and those were on a garbage time dunk, with the game all but over. Besides that dunk, Davante only attempted one other shot during that stretch. This led to some discussion on the game thread about why The Big Nickname wasn't getting his looks with the game in the balance. My feelings are that this is a prime example of the downside of having a post player as your leading scorer. Once you get into late game comeback mode, guys don't always feel like there's time to run the ball through the post every trip and this is the result.
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: If this isn't the finest game of Jake Thomas' career at Marquette to date, then I don't know what is. And honestly, this could very well go in the book as his greatest game as a Golden Eagle. Jake's shooting was what kept us in the game. He hit a number of big shots, at big points in the game. He hit 6 of 12 from the field, 5 of 11 from distance, en route to a 17 point, 2 assist, 3 rebound performance. He was a major reason that Marquette didn't get run right out of the gym.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Deonte Burton still has a lot of "freshman" in him, but the young man has skills. In 15 minutes he tallied 13 points, on 4-7 shooting (including his 1st collegiate 3-pointer), with 2 boards and 2 blocks. I also liked the assertiveness he showed down the stretch... even if it did result in a few forced shots.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: With 2:30 left to play, and Marquette trailing by 8, Buzz called a timeout from the bench to rescue a floundering possession. If there was to be any hope of one last run at stealing this game, Marquette had, had, had to get a basket on this trip. Out of the timeout the Golden Eagles executed perfectly and were able to get Jake Thomas open in the corner for a 3-pointer, that he drilled. It was the last little flicker of hope, however unrealistic. But it was awesome to see the execution, out of the timeout, when it was do or die.
Up Next: No time to dwell on this one. Seton Hall comes to the Bradley Center this Saturday, at 1:00. If there is any hope of salvaging this season, it has to start now. Losing to Seton Hall is not an option. See you all on Saturday!