A lot of things went in Marquette‘s direction on Wednesday afternoon at Valley Fields, but two runs of five goals each by Denver and a horrific turnover situation in the first half tilted things in favor of the visitors as MU took a 17-11 loss to the Pioneers. With the loss, Marquette drops to 5-2 in Big East play after their second straight loss, and now sit in fourth place in the league standings with two games left to play.
Through most of the first half, the fact that Marquette was holding a lead was pretty impressive. It’s not that Denver is the kind of powerhouse squad like Florida is, it’s that Marquette kept throwing the ball away. The Golden Eagles committed 16 turnovers in the first half alone, but when Allison Lane scored during a Denver penalty with 9:38 left in the half, MU was up 5-3 even with 11 turnovers. That’s essentially one every other minute for the first 21 minutes of the game, and yet, MU held the lead. Not only were they holding the lead, they were running roughshod on a Pioneers defense that came in allowing fewer than nine goals a game.
At that point, even with the turnover problem, things seemed to be going Marquette’s way. The only question was when the turnovers would end up costing MU. As it turns out, the answer was over the next eight minutes. Denver scored five straight goals to flip the 5-3 game into an 8-5 Denver lead. Twice in that run, a Marquette turnover led to a Denver goal less than 30 seconds later, which is pretty much the definition of the turnover costing you.
Riley Hill snapped the DU streak with 26 seconds left in the half on the easiest free position shot you can get, as it was generated by a foul on Carson Gregg, the Denver goalie. That sent Gregg to stand behind Hill on the FPS attempt, and she easily and calmly snapped it into the net without even moving her feet. That goal ended up being a bit of a jumpstart for Marquette in the second half, as it would be Hill herself that drew MU even with the Pioneers at nine goals each with 23:04 left to play.
All of those empty turnover possessions in the first half came roaring back as a massive problem for the Golden Eagles over the next seven minutes, and Denver went on another five goal run. Marquette had three turnovers and not a single shot in the DU run that ultimately spelled the end of the game. Charlotte McGuire would answer Julia Feiss’ goal just 21 seconds later to pull Marquette back within four at 14-10, but Denver’s defense held resolute over the next 11 minutes. MU couldn’t generate another goal in that time, and when McGuire finally scored her team high fourth and final goal of the game with four minutes and change remaining, Marquette just didn’t have the horses to be able to pull off a miracle comeback.
Yes, MU had three turnovers in that second half Denver run, but for the most part, that wasn’t the problem after halftime. Both teams had five giveaways each, which was a long way away from the 16-8 differential in the first half. The score did get away from Marquette in the closing minutes as the Golden Eagles attempted to ride the Pios into a late turnover, but instead, they made the pass out in front of the unattended net for the easy goal three times.
The thing that makes the turnovers even worse that they appear on face value is that Marquette shredded Denver on draw controls. MU took the first eight draws of the game on their way to a 12-3 advantage at halftime and a 10-5 advantage in the second half. Marquette found themselves nearly constantly in possession of the ball after either team had scored, but thanks to the turnover disaster, MU was never able to capitalize on all of those extra possessions.
13 of those draw controls came from the stick of Grace Gabriel, who easily dominated the battle of the two best draw artists in the Big East, as DU’s Maddie Baum had just one DC in the game. Gabriel, who also led the Big East in goals per game coming into the contest, found herself turned into a facilitator in this one. She had just one goal, but registered three assists after posting just seven total in MU’s previous 14 games. With the lone goal, she’s now three away from both Julianna Shearer’s single season and career records, and Marquette has two regular season games left to go.
Up Next: Speaking of left to go, Marquette will be back in action right away this weekend. The Golden Eagles will have to find a way to shake off their first back-to-back losses since the opening two games of the season while tangling with a very talented Georgetown squad on the road on Saturday. The Hoyas are 6-1 and in second place in the Big East after surviving a 15-14 shootout with Connecticut on Wednesday afternoon. As Marquette could have clinched a Big East tournament berth with a win against Denver, I suspect that will be the same case on Saturday.