Still Searching For Answers: Marquette 67, Seton Hall 66

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I would like to find something encouraging in Marquette’s way-closer-than-it-should-have-been victory over the stumbling Pirates of Seton Hall on Saturday.

I would like to focus on the first 20 minutes of the game, when Marquette looked as sharp as it has at any point this season, racing out to a seemingly-commanding 40-26 halftime lead. I would like to note Jamil Wilson’s dynamic performance on the heels of his disastrous turn against Xavier, as the Big Kringle pulled out every trick in the bag – mid-range jumpers, Association-level up-and-under moves, tip dunks – en route to 16 points and 11 boards. I would like to figure out what the hell got into Derrick Wilson’s Gatorade bottle before the game, as the much-maligned point guard was somehow hitting jumpers and making twisting layups like he was Junior Cadougan reincarnated. I would like to give Todd Mayo one more chance, because when he’s right – and he was very, very right on Saturday – he’s the perimeter offensive threat that MU desperately needs.

And yet: I can’t get over the stink of the final 15 minutes of the game. Because despite all the good things we saw in the first half on Saturday, the second half near-disaster showed, once again, that there isn’t much reason for optimism for YOUR Golden Eagles going forward.

After a quick bucket put Marquette up 16 in the first minute after intermission, the wheels completely fell off the wagon in all three areas of the game:

First came a gaffe from Coach Buzz: there weren’t any stoppages of play when the clock got past the 16 minute mark, so the first media timeout didn’t occur until nearly eight minutes had run off the clock. Problem was, every player on the floor was completely gassed with 15 minutes to go, and MU stopped moving on both ends of the floor, which led to open looks for the Hall and terrible shot selection for the Golden Eagles. Most notable were two terrible 3-point attempts from Davante Gardner, who decided to hoist those bombs even though he looked like he was about to lose his cookies on the floor. The lead was still 9 when Buzz mercifully called timeout with just over 12 minutes to go, but the tone for the second half had been set.

The defense, stout in the first half, came apart amidst a flurry of 3-pointers from Seton Hall, which put home 7 triples in the second half to post an impressive eFG% of 55.7% after halftime. Without Gene Teague, who was sidelined again with a concussion, the Hall was without any legitimate post presence and its only hope was to bomb away; Buzz acknowledged as much on the post-game radio show, but didn’t have any apparent explanation for how MU allowed sharp-shooting Brian Oliver and friends so many open looks.

Most distressing of all, of course, was the Marquette offense, which reverted to Creightonian levels of execution in posting a horrific eFG% of 37.5% in the second half. For reasons known only to themselves and their coach, the Golden Eagles attempted TEN 3-pointers after halftime and didn’t make a single one. We noted after the Xavier game that the danger of a hot-shooting performance from distance is that it would give the crew unwarranted confidence, and that fear came home to roost almost immediately.

That MU attempted 10 triples after running out to a big advantage on the strength of its 2-point shooting is troubling on a couple of levels, because there are only two explanations for a team that’s so bad at shooting to attempt that many threes: the first possibility is that Coach Buzz doesn’t want the team taking those shots (and you’d think that’s the case, what with his continual harping on paint touches) but the boys either aren’t listening or aren’t good enough to execute what Buzz wants done. The second possibility is that Coach Buzz wants the team taking these shots, shooting percentages be damned, but that sounds too crazy to be true. (That is too crazy to be true. Isn’t it?) Neither possibility is particularly appetizing.

Against the likes of Seton Hall, you can afford a brainfart-filled, 15-minute crater. Against any other team in the Big East, though, that’s probably a loss. Hell: even against Seton Hall, if that game was 3 minutes longer, I’m not sure Marquette wins it.

Blech.

Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: Jamil Wilson filled the stat sheet, but Marquette needed every single one of Todd Mayo’s 19 points and, more importantly, every single one of his nine free throws. Mayo hit five throws in the last couple minutes, nailing all three freebies after being fouled by Fuquan Edwin and then hitting both ends of a one-and-one that put Marquette up 4 with 20 seconds left – and proved to be the difference when SHU hit a 40-footer at the buzzer.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: We’re usually hard on Derrick Wilson, so when he tallies 8 points, 4 assists, and 2 rebounds, it’s only fair to acknowledge his contribution. Now if only he could make free throws so the last minutes of the game against a press-happy opponent wouldn’t be so eventful. (Sorry, sorry. Happy thoughts only.)

Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: Marquette was gasping for air with four minutes left when Patrik Auda went to the line with the chance to trim Marquette’s precarious lead to 4. But after Auda bricked both free throws, Jamil Wilson put home a pretty reverse layup on the other end to push Marquette’s lead to 8. (OK, fine: he stepped out of bounds before he made the shot. That play would’ve been totally fine in baseball.)

Up Next: A week to try to figure things out, then it’s back on the road, as YOUR Golden Eagles trek to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a matchup with the perennially pesky, yet winless in league play Bulldogs of Butler.

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