Going into an opponent's gym on senior night and walking out with a victory is never an easy task. If that opponent is not secure in their NCAA Tournament future, and has been embarrassed by you once already this season, that task becomes increasingly daunting. And if you are coming into the game riding high, fresh off of a hard fought, emotional, road victory, then you might as well have stayed on the bus.
YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles learned this lesson the hard way Wednesday night. They took their 5 game win streak into "The Shoe" looking to knock off the Cincinnati Bearcats and rain on the parade of seniors Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon. Unfortunately the recently hot Bearcats were ready, and took it to Marquette early. The result was an MU team that was never able to get out of first gear, and fairly serious ass whipping.
Things looked promising from the start. Marquette made its first 3 shots - all 3-pointers from Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. But even with those buckets, you got the feeling that Cincy was not messing around. Gates was having his way inside - gobbling up offensive rebounds and getting position wherever he wanted. An early 2nd foul on the big man gave MU fans a reason to be confident. But after Yancy went to the bench, the Bearcats proceeded to go on a 10-2 run. That was not encouraging.
Marquette was able to keep within about 8 points of the lead for the majority of half, and I think everyone was probably thinking the same thing I was at that point: "Keep this thing within striking distance at half, and we'll come out and win it in the 2nd." But a 13-5 spurt over the last 4 minutes pushed the lead to 14 by the time halftime arrived. A 3-pointer by Jaquon Parker, with 3 seconds left, was an especially painful blow.
The second half saw more Cincinnati dominance. By the first media timeout the lead had been extended from 14 to 19, and the hopes of a 2nd half rally were pretty much dashed. Marquette would go deep into the bag of tricks - employing their standard pressure, as well as a 2-3 zone - in an effort to get back into the game. Unfortunately, MU could not muster enough stops, or make enough shots, to ever mount a serious threat. The Bearcats get the W, and probably assure themselves a place in the Big Dance, 72-61... and it wasn't really that close.
Mr. K's takes and awards are just a jump away.
- It's no secret that, with the injuries, Marquette is a very small team. For the most part, Golden Eagles have been able to prevent that from being a problem to this point. However, tonight I felt like they really seemed small out there. The numbers are a bit deceiving. MU actually won the rebounding battle 38-33 on paper. But I suspect the rebounding edge during the portion of the game that actually mattered was decidedly in the Bearcats' favor. Yancy Gates had 13 boards in just 23 minutes. It seemed like Cincy's size was an issue on the defensive end as well. They tallied 9 blocked shots in the game. Mean Muggin' Justin Jackson registered a career high 7 blocks... in 13 minutes!!!
- For the most part Marquette has overcome the lack of size by simply playing faster, and with more energy, than their opponents. Tonight it seemed like Cincinnati had all the energy. I don't know if that's just a product of the environment - the crowd was very live for the game, and the Bearcats clearly fed off the atmosphere. Or maybe tonight is an example of what happens when you have to play 100mph for 8 straight games. Either way, the team with the pep in their step tonight was clearly Cincy.
- If you like 3-pointers, this was the game for you. The two teams combined to take 50 shots from downtown. If you're a fan of made 3-pointers, then you may have had to avert your eyes. Of those 50 triples only 13 found the bottom of the net. Cincinnati in the first half was especially atrocious. They hit their first one, and then proceeded to miss their next 13 straight attempts from distance. Yet despite this horrid display, they still managed to extend their lead. What a terrible feeling that was.
- Cincinnati's Jaquon Parker blew up in this game. The junior guard hung a career-high 28 points on the Golden Eagles. When guys that average 8 ppg are going off for 28, you're in trouble.
- Marquette's 33% shooting performance was their worst since shooting 32% against Vanderbilt. A lot of the credit goes to the Bearcat defense, which played a very active and aggressive 2-3 zone most of the game and gave MU fits.
- How is this loss going to affect Marquette's potential NCAA Tournament seed? Who knows?
- How does this loss affect the potential seeding situation for the Big East Tournament? It really doesn't. Marquette is now 13-4 in conference, and still a game ahead of both Georgetown and Notre Dame. Win Saturday and we're the #2 seed.
Let's do some awards and put this stinker behind us, shall we?
Jae Crowder Player of the Game: With a team-high 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4-8 shooting from 3-point land, DJO gets the nod as tonight's POTG.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Tonight's Undersung Eagle is Jae Crowder. Now I know what you're thinking. How can the 2-time Big East Player of the Week turn in an "undersung" performance? He can't. But we give out 2 player awards here at Anonymous Eagle and tonight there were really only 2 players worthy of being awarded. So, since we gave the other one to DJO, this one goes to Jae.
Davante "Big Smooth" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: With the game tied at 9, Cincy's Cashmere Wright came up with a steal and threw it ahead to Dion Dixon, who went in all alone and MISSED a dunk. DJO grabbed the rebound and fired it down court to Jamil Wilson, who threw down an awesome left-handed jam. It was like Jamil said, "Here son, let me show you how it's done." That gave Marquette an 11-9 lead.... they wouldn't lead again. Ugh.
Up Next: The final regular season game of the year. Time sure does fly when you're having fun. The boys will be looking to send Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom out in style, as they take on the #12 Georgetown Hoyas. Along with a proper send-off for the seniors, MU will also be looking to exact a little revenge for the "one that got away" earlier this season. Tip time is 1:00 at the Bradley Center. I hope to see you all there, and hear you in full throat one last time for this team and these seniors.