After a couple of hiccups to start the year -- one relatively minor, one of the GERD on 'roids variety -- YOUR precocious Marquette Golden Eagles hadn't shown their age in running off a nine-game winning streak to enter the 2016 BIG EAST season. But tonight served as a stark reminder that these young Eagles still have a lot of growing up to do, as Marquette was ravaged by the Pirates of Seton Hall, 83-63, at the Bradley Center.
Energy was never the issue tonight; if anything, Marquette came out a little too geared up, with early turnovers and a silly missed-layup-and-foul sequence from Sandy Cohen III putting MU in a 7-2 hole. Behind two Luke Fischer bunnies, Marquette trimmed the margin to 7-6, but a 10-0 counterpunch from the Hall -- fueled by four points each from Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez -- pushed the Pirates to a 17-6 advantage. MU again responded, this team with a 19-9 run to shave SHU's lead to 1 at the under-8 timeout, and Marquette soon grabbed the lead thanks to Haanif Cheatham's relentless attacks at the rim; the second coming of Jalen Rose notched 9 points (on four layups and a free throw) in the last 7 minutes of the half to stake MU to a 40-39 lead at the break.
But foul trouble was the story of the half for Marquette, and now's probably as opportune a time as any to get this out of the way: five Marquette players finished the half with two fouls, in large part because the officiating crew -- captained by the peerless (and that's not a good thing) James Breeding -- was almost indescribably awful. I say "almost indescribably" because there's one sequence I can describe that encapsulates the experience tonight: with Marquette down 2 with about 4 minutes to go in the half, Rodriguez stole a terrible pass from Duane Wilson and rushed up court, where he soon encountered Wally Ellenson, who had set up camp about five feet from the restricted area. And when I say "set up camp," I mean that in the literal sense: Wally was set long enough to start a small fire and fix up s'mores for everyone in blue and gold. And yet, when Rodriguez barreled over Wally, the call was a block, and Rodriguez hit the two throws to give Seton Hall a four-point cushion.
Those were the kind of calls that happened all night -- and not just to Marquette; Seton Hall's Veer Singh, for example, was called for a foul when Cohen went over Fischer's back for a rebound -- but that's not at all an excuse for what happened in the first half (or the second, for that matter). The referees were terrible tonight, but that's going to be the rule and not the exception, because BIG EAST referees in particular (and college refs in general) are terrible. So when Traci Carter gets whistled for two fouls in the first 6 minutes of the game, you can't really bitch about the officiating. It's just that the kid seems completely over his skis at this point.
ANYWAY: after weathering that early storm, and after surviving a dreadful shooting performance from Henry Ellenson (1-7 from the floor in the half), you had hope that the worst of the night was behind YOUR Golden Eagles. Those hopes were quickly extinguished when Marquette came out ice-cold to start the second half: making only 6 of its first 20 attempts from the floor, MU quickly found itself down 5, and then 9, and then 13, and then 20. Cheatham no longer had the touch in the second half (2 points, 1-6 from the field), Ellenson never managed to get untracked (3-14 overall, 1-3 from 3-point range), and Fischer couldn't capitalize on his early success. Cheatham's only bucket of the half drew MU within 7 at 59-52, but the Hall answered with a 14-2 haymaker, and that was that. Marquette's win streak ends at nine and for the third year in a row, the Golden Eagles are 0-1 to start the conference season.
Nobody played especially well tonight, but Cheatham deserves note for his work to keep Marquette in the game in the first half, and Ellenson somehow managed to go 13-14-3 despite a terrible shooting night. Fisch was solid, too, with 13 points, 9 boards, and 3 blocks, but when you get goose-eggs from Cohen and Carter (who lasted all of 6 minutes on the evening), odds are you aren't going to make much noise.
The road doesn't get any easier for Marquette in the short term, either: an East Coast road trip through D.C. and Rhode Island sits next on the schedule, and there isn't a lot of time to figure things out before MU visits Georgetown on Saturday.
Still: young teams do young team things, and that's not always a bad thing. Having won twice in Brooklyn and having handed Bo Ryan his last-ever loss as a collegiate coach (and, no, I'm not going to stop mentioning that anytime soon, thankyouverymuch), is it insane to think Marquette won't show up in a big way against the schizophrenic Hoyas?