On the strength of massive efforts from their fabulous front-court duo, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles stomped a mud hole in the hated Wisconsin Badgers and then walked it dry, withstanding a furious late rally to claim the most beautiful 57-55 victory you'll ever see this afternoon at the Kohl Center.
Marquette's game plan was clear from the get-go, as the Golden Eagles worked the ball to Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer at every turn. That plan was nearly derailed two minutes into the game, though, when point guard (and MU's best entry passer) Traci Carter was lost to two ticky-tack but legitimate -- if that makes sense -- fouls drawn by the cagey Bronson Koenig. But Duane Wilson stepped into the breach and acquitted himself quite well, not forcing the action -- I can recall one lazy pass to the paint that was easily picked off, but that's about it -- and making his only 3-point attempt, a textbook triple in transition that gave MU a 17-15 lead.
Ellenson and Fischer had plenty of looks in the first half, combining for 13 shots, but they managed to hit only four of them. With the Badgers running hot and cold from the field, neither team led by more than three points until the final minute of the half, when Jajuan Johnson found Fischer cutting down the lane for a thunderous dunk that staked Marquette to a 29-24 halftime lead. Marquette couldn't figure out what to do with big man Vitto Brown, who hit 4 of 7 shots -- primarily deep jumpers -- to pace UW with 9 points. Fortunately, the Badgers' two primary scoring options, Koenig and Nigel Hayes, couldn't get untracked in the first half, thanks in large part to some ferocious defense from Sandy Cohen III. With Cohen draped over him like Linus' blanky, Hayes only managed 1 point and missed all eight of his attempts from the field.
With the distinct height and talent advantage in the paint, you figured it was only a matter of time until Ellenson and Fischer started converting, and that's exactly how the first 10 minutes of the second half played out. Haanif Cheatham put up 4 quick points to open the scoring, but then the Hank and Luke Show came to town, as the big men scored Marquette's next 13 points and boosted MU to a 14-point cushion with 11 minutes and change to go. It certainly helped that Wisconsin couldn't buy a bucket during that stretch; UW had just 8 points in the first 8 minutes of the second half, as Brown went cold and Koenig remained broke with his jumper.
Despite those struggles, the Badgers didn't go quietly, stringing together a 12-2 run (fueled by 3s from Hayes and Koenig) to slash Marquette's lead to four points with 6 minutes to play. Ellenson momentarily restored order by tipping in his own missed floater, but UW kept coming, and a bomb from Koenig and a jumper from Brown knotted the score at 53. Ellenson answered with a stones-as-big-as-watermelons jumper, and after Hayes tied it up again, Fischer followed Henry's miss to give Marquette a 57-55 lead.
More heroic defense from Cohen forced Hayes into two difficult shots on the ensuing possession, and after Fischer rebounded Cheatham's missed one-and-one attempt, that was all she wrote. Marquette gets a signature road win, Wisconsin loses back-to-back non-conference home games for the first time in a generation, MU snaps a two-game losing streak to UW, and Bo apparently got pissy with reporters after the game. If you can think of a better basketball day, I'd love to hear it.
Ellenson finished with a double-double with 15 and 11 (and four assists, just in case anybody wondered who the best player in the state was) and Fisch chipped in 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks, but if you're asking my opinion, the man of the match was Cohen, who handcuffed Hayes into a 4-18 shooting performance. Cheatham also deserves special mention for taking on the task of tracking Koenig, who was limited to an 8-point (3-11 from the field), 2-assist showing.
With the win, Marquette improves to 8-2 and is riding a 7-game winning streak. Wisconsin drops to 6-5 (including a 4-3 mark at home), and all I want for Christmas is for Bo Ryan to pull a Dick Bennett and quit tomorrow, just so his final game was a loss to Marquette.
A boy can dream, can't he?
Happy Badger Hate Week.