Fresh of their most impressive victory of the year, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles were guarding against a letdown as they faced the struggling Red Storm of St. John's. And after tripping over themselves for 20 minutes, Marquette righted the ship and escaped with a gritty, gutty, 81-75 triumph this afternoon at the Bradley Center.
With how bad St. John's has been this year -- if you haven't heard, the Johnnies were losers of six straight games coming into today's action and had fallen at home to Incarnate Word (the school, not the Lord and Savior) and NJIT, among others -- and with the loss of shot-blocking menace Yankuba Sima to a broken hand, you had the hope that today's game would prove to be a cakewalk. And things certainly seemed pointed in that direction in the first 2 minutes of the game, as baskets from Henry Ellenson, Luke Fischer, and Haanif Cheatham put MU up 6-0.
But then the Johnnies woke up, and woke up in a big way. A couple of buckets from Ron Mvouika gave the Red Storm its first lead at 7-6, and then it was bombs away for St. John's, which came into the game hitting just 29% of its 3-point attempts but somehow managed a 7-11 showing from deep in the first half. Marquette, meanwhile, was dancing with two left shoes on, coughing up 10 turnovers in the half and losing Fischer and Ellenson for extended stretches with foul trouble.
With Fischer and Ellenson off the court, Duane Wilson took it upon himself to carry the team, and the results weren't pretty: Wilson was a chilly 1-9 in the opening half, managing only 3 points while connecting on just 1-5 from distance. But some crucial minutes from Wally Ellenson -- who grabbed four rebounds and hit a 3 in his 8 minutes of action -- and Matt Heldt (5 minutes, 2 points, 2 rebounds) kept things from getting too far out of hand, and, all things considered, Marquette was fortunate to be down just 8, 39-31, at intermission.
There figured to be a course correction in the second half in terms of St. John's shooting, and, sure enough, until Durand Johnson canned two triples in the last 30 seconds of the game (when the outcome was already decided), the Johnnies limped to 2-11 3-point shooting after the break. For its part, Marquette came out in the second half on fire, making its first four attempts from the floor and hitting three free throws to shave the Johnnies' lead to 3.
Henry Ellenson kept MU within striking distance with two and-1 opportunities -- one he converted, one he didn't -- and a dunk, but Marquette wasn't able to get over the hump until Wilson finally found the range from 3-point land. Wilson's first hit gave Marquette the lead at 55-53, and his next two -- one of which came from Sheboygan -- expanded the advantage to 63-59. Fischer put St. John's on the ropes with back-to-back buckets before he fouled out with 1:43 to go, and then MU salted things away at the line, hitting all 10 attempts in the final minutes to claim a hard-fought victory.
So, a couple of things: yes, St. John's is terrible (inexperienced and overmatched are probably better words), and so is its coach (inexperienced and overmatched are probably better words there, too), and you'd prefer that a matchup with a terrible team not come down to the last few minutes of the game. That said, you never, ever apologize for a win in a conference game, especially when you've got a terrible officiating crew (and inexperienced and overmatched are not the better words here) calling offensive fouls like there's a buy-one-get-one sale going on. This was a well-deserved win, so let's save the "yeah, buts" for another day.
Fischer led the way for Marquette with 18 points, but two rebounds in 26 minutes disqualify him from man of the match honors, which instead go to Big Hank for his 15-10-2-2 line (and we'll just ignore the six turnovers, for no other reason than we don't want to talk about them right now). Cheatham dipped, ducked, and dodged his way to 15 points of his own, and Wilson's torrid second half ended with 14 points and 5 assists.
With the win, Marquette evens its record in the BIG EAST at 2-2 and improves its overall mark to 12-4. St. John's is still in search of its first conference win and now sits at 7-10 (0-4). YOUR Golden Eagles now go hunting for their second pelt in as many weeks, as they travel to face the Villanova Wildcats on Wednesday.