Days after submitting 15 minutes of great basketball in what eventually turned into a 15-point loss to Villanova, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles had another opportunity to take a giant step forward in today's matchup against the 7th-ranked Musketeers of Xavier. Instead, the young Golden Eagles took two big steps back, turning in just 8 minutes of solid ball before bowing meekly to the high-powered X-Men, 74-66.
MU made a decided effort to work the paint in the opening minutes of the contest, with Luke Fischer putting home three quick buckets to give Marquette an early 6-4 advantage. And when Henry Ellenson notched 7 quick points of his own (on two throws, a layup, and a 3), the margin had swelled to 15-6, the crowd was rocking, and Marquette seemed to have learned from the mistakes of the first 10 minutes of the game against Villanova.
Then the under-12 media timeout came, and things went a little sideways after that.
After Duane Wilson's 3 (his only make on TEN!?!?!! attempts on the day) gave MU an 18-11 lead, Marquette didn't score for the next 8 minutes against Xavier's 1-3-1 zone. MU gave up working the paint during this stretch, but it's not fair to say they "settled" for jumpers -- there were a buttload of wide-open looks (though, to be fair, some of them were from NBA 3-point range), but Marquette just couldn't connect. Add in four turnovers and a technical foul on Wilson and you've got a recipe for disaster, especially against a team as talented as Xavier.
Trevon Bluiett and James Farr did the lion's work of the scoring during Marquette's silent stretch, with Bluiett tallying 7 points and Farr 10, and when the smoke cleared, Xavier had strung together a staggering 21-0 run, Fischer was on the bench with three fouls, and the only Marquette player worth a lick was Wally Ellenson, who turned in career highs in minutes (20), points (9), and rebounds (8). Wally's tip-in at the buzzer kept Marquette's deficit at 10, but Xavier was firmly in control.
Not much changed in the second half. Two Haanif Cheatham free throws drew MU within 7, but Cheatham gave those points right back on J.P. Marcura's and-1 layup. Bluiett went to work on Henry Ellenson (7 points in the first 4 minutes of the second half), and things really might've gotten really silly had Xavier not had its own quiet 5-minute stretch in the second half. Unfortunately for the local 5, Marquette didn't do anything to take advantage, as turnovers and missed layups kept MU from making it a game.
Jajuan Johnson (returning after a one-game absence due to a neck injury) got Marquette within 9 on a layup with 6:41 to play, but Myles Davis answered with a 3-pointer on the other end, and then hit another after Fischer again trimmed Xavier's lead to 9 with 4:42 left. But Fischer soon fouled out, and Traci Carter (who offset his 7 assists with a 1-7 showing from the floor and two turnovers) followed suit two minutes later, and the game fittingly ended with Wilson bricking his final two 3-point attempts after Henry Ellenson's jumper got MU within 7.
We should probably talk a bit more about Duane Wilson for a second, because if we're talking about taking steps back, he's the best place to start. For reasons that aren't clear, Wilson has been given the green light to shoot whenever he wants, which really throws a wrench in the works when he submits a 2-15 (1-10 from 3-point range) performance from the floor. Wilson is a streak shooter, for sure, but he hasn't really shown the ability to shoot himself out of poor start (if that makes sense); in other words, if he starts cold, it seems likely that's going to continue for the duration. I'm not sure what the solution for this is, because it's not like Wilson is taking away shots from more capable shooters, but it doesn't seem like ideal strategy, either.
Anyway: with the loss, Marquette drops to 12-6 overall and 2-4 in conference, while the rampaging Musketeers run their impressive record to 16-1, 5-1.
The road gets a bit easier with DePaul next on the slate, but given how things have gone thus far in 2016, nothing's a given for these Golden Eagles. That said, of course: they'll probably win by 40 or something.