On the heels of back to back losses to Big East behemoths Villanova and Xavier, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles desperately needed to fatten up on a conference bottom feeder, and, as luck would have it, the woebegone Blue Demons of DePaul -- losers of six straight, and 9 of their last 10 contests -- were next up on the slate.
But if you were expecting a walk in the park, you haven't been paying very close attention this season. Turning in its most dreadful 40 minutes of basketball since being humiliated at home by Iowa in November, Marquette gift-wrapped an inexcusable, postseason-killing 57-56 win for the Blue Demons tonight at the Bradley Center.
For the first time in two months, Coach Wojo made changes to his starting five, opting to sit Traci Carter and Sandy Cohen III in favor of Jajuan Johnson and Wally Ellenson. That move made sense, given that Johnson and Wally were the best (only?) things Marquette had going for it in Saturday's loss to Xavier, but as the old saying goes, a plan only works until you get punched in the mouth -- or, in Marquette's case tonight, until your starting center starts trying to play leapfrog with the opponent. Two quick, silly fouls on Luke Fischer sent the MU big man to the bench for the rest of the half, and when Henry Ellenson briefly had to depart with an injury to his leg, Matt Heldt and Sacar Anim were suddenly pressed into service, and the results were...something.
OK, OK, to be fair: Anim poured in a 3-pointer from the corner, and Heldt was fine if unimpressive, but Marquette limped to just 0.78 points per possession in the first half, en route to a 26-22 halftime deficit. If it weren't for Duane Wilson, who came off the bench to score 8 points (on 2-3 from distance), and Haanif Cheatham, who knifed his way to 6, the carnage would have somehow been worse. Henry Ellenson looked out of sorts and notched just 4 points in the half, with Jajuan Johnson (1) and Anim (3) accounting for the other 4.
Johnson quickly got MU on the board after intermission with a deep 3, but a turnover by Wally Ellenson on a lazy entry pass handed those points back to DePaul and drew Wojo's ire. Henry Ellenson ripped off 5 rapid points to trim the margin to two, but in a fitting vignette for the evening, Peter Ryckbosch -- who basically begins every game with 2 fouls -- outfought four Marquette defenders and put in a layup to restore DePaul's margin to 4. Buckets from Wilson and Henry Ellenson drew MU even, and Marquette answered a 5-0 DePaul run with a 6-0 run of its own to take a short-lived 46-45 lead.
That set up a somewhat-less-than-pleasing final 7 minutes of the game, as Marquette seemed poise to salt away the game from the line after DePaul committed its tenth foul of the half with 5 minutes left. But with Marquette up 52-47, Fischer missed two free throws, and DePaul eventually knotted the game up after layups from Billy Garrett, Jr. and Rashaun Stimage, and a free throw from R.J. Curington. Wilson -- who was largely magnificent with 19 points and 4 assists -- restored MU's lead with a tough jumper from just inside the arc, then put Marquette ahead by 2 again when he followed his own shot with 8 seconds left.
But after an official's timeout to review the clock, Garrett exploited a mismatch with Fischer on the perimeter, and Fischer then committed the mortal sin of fouling Garrett on the layup with 1.1 seconds left. Garrett put home the throw and Wilson's last-second prayer went unanswered, and just like that, Marquette's season is circling the drain.
There's really no overreacting when you drop a game on your home floor to a program as dreadful as DePaul -- do I need to remind you that their plan to resurrect their program was to re-hire the same coach who'd already bailed on them once? -- so whatever your feelings tonight, they're appropriate. And that certainly includes wondering if Marquette has the right man at the helm of the program; for the second year in a row, MU is steadily getting worse instead of better as the season progresses. And when a team comes out unforgivably flat and gets its brains battered in on the offensive glass (DePaul grabbed 16 of its own misses tonight), you're well within your rights to question if the head coach is pushing the right buttons.
And, sadly, it seems we'll have plenty of time to debate those things, as any talk of the postseason is beyond silly at this point -- unless you'd like to sign up for the first-ever (and maybe first annual) Anonymous Eagle Bake Sale to Support the CBI. I'll make the snickerdoodles. What can we pencil you in for?
St. John's is up next on the schedule, and if that game plays out like this one, shit's gonna get REAL interesting.