New season. Same problems.
Spoiling an impressive debut from freshman wunderkind Henry Ellenson, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles showed the same discouraging knack for not being able to close out tight games that plagued the 2014'15 season, dropping an 83-80 decision to Belmont tonight at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Marquette's defense in the first half was, to put it mildly, a toxic waste tire fire. You had a sense that MU was struggling with the new "freedom of movement" points of emphasis in Monday's exhibition game, and that very much continued tonight. But other problems soon showed up: from letting bomber Craig Bradshaw get loose for four early 3-pointers, to twice giving up 4-point plays, to letting Evan Bradds abuse Haanif Cheatham in the post, to completely forgetting how to play help defense, Marquette was lucky to be down just 7 at intermission. A cold stretch in the middle of the half cooled Belmont's jets, as did seven first-half turnovers, but a 14-3 run to end the half had the Bruins in front, 47-40.
Nine points from Luke Fischer kept MU in the hunt, and Jajuan Johnson -- who looked surprisingly springier -- and Sandy Cohen (2-4 from deep, 2-2 from the line) chipped in 8 apiece. Henry Ellenson's first basket came on a li'l hooker three minutes into the action, and he notched 7 points, 6 rebounds, and two assists in the first half.
Some ragged play to open the second half gifted Belmont its first double-digit lead of the game, as a steal and layup from Bradshaw staked the Bruins to a 51-40 lead. MU couldn't buy a bucket before the first media timeout, but then Big Hank canned a 3, and then he hit 2 throws, and then he put home another li'l hooker, and suddenly things were knotted up at 56. And then at 61. And then at 63. And then at 65 at the under-8 media timeout.
But Bradds (24 points, 9 rebounds) went to work again, obliterating Fischer and anyone else MU threw in his direction -- bee tee dubs, boys: it's called a pick-and-roll; I'm surprised you haven't heard of it before -- as the Bruins went on an 11-2 run to grab a 76-67 advantage. But just when it seemed they were ready to fold, Marquette answered with an 8-0 uppercut to stagger Belmont, then took the lead on Duane Wilson's 10-footer in the lane with just over a minute to play.
And then a series of inexcusable mistakes undid what could have been an impressive win. First Wilson took a deep 3 when Marquette had a 5-on-4 advantage with 45 seconds to go, then Traci Carter committed a silly reach-in foul with 28 seconds left. After Austin Luke gave Belmont the lead from the line, Ellenson bowled over Bradds -- it wasn't a charge, because Bradds wasn't set, but whatever -- to give the Bruins the ball back. Crawford split a pair of free throws, but then Carter -- who, to be fair, shouldn't be tasked with handling the ball in the last 10 seconds of the game at this stage of his career -- flailed out of control down the court, and when the ball trickled out of bounds, that was all she wrote.
Ellenson was outstanding with 21 points and 16 rebounds, and Cohen did his part with 11 points and 6 rebounds. But Marquette needs to figure out the point guard situation and repair its leaky defense -- and probably not in that order -- if things are going to get better any time soon.
Marquette is 0-1 for the first time since 2000, when the Golden Eagles got undressed at home by South Alabama. I was in attendance at that game, so trust me when I tell you that that game was much, much, much worse than this one.
IUIPUI is next. Until then.