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Not Pretty But It Counts: #12 Marquette 87, Xavier 82

The Milkman delivered, and other things happened.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

At some point, these type of wins become sustainable. I don’t think we’ve reached that point of certainty now, but it’s a possibility that needs to be considered. If Marquette is within shooting distance at the end, they can’t be counted out. It’s the type of thing that happens with upperclassmen stars like Markus Howard and Sam Hauser.

Marquette was trailing for a majority of the game. A lot of times it wasn’t close. Xavier was hitting everything, and credit to them. They came into the game shooting 32% from deep but went 8/18 today. Paul Scruggs was a wrecking ball and Tyrique Jones did his best impersonation of a dragon that plays basketball.

I don’t think that the defense played particularly bad, actually. Jones was just the one matchup that Theo John couldn’t afford to be in foul trouble for. It just so happened that he was disqualified after committing a total of 2 fouls. Real bummer. Xavier also fed off the energy of the crowd, which I would describes as “hella bonkers”. Still, this is Marquette’s 4th road game, and also the 4th road game in which the opposing team went off on offense, so I can’t fully treat this game in a vacuum.

But, as has happened with every close game this year, the team performed down the stretch. From the 7:00 mark of the second half on, Xavier made 3 total field goals, all of which came in the final :40 when Marquette just needed to bleed the clock. Joey Hauser had a clutch steal, Matt Heldt fortified the low block, Brendan Bailey had a couple phenomenal stops in iso situations. The team doesn’t win without the added effort on that end.

In those final seven minutes Marquette sustained a 24-13 run, with 20 of those points, and all of the field goals, coming from Howard and the Brothers Hauser. Each of those players made an important three, including Joey showing off his NBA range which caused maximum drooling from me.

Alright, enough big picture stuff. Let’s talk about the most important play of the game. No, it wasn’t Sam Hauser’s go-ahead three. That was the third most important play. THE most important play happened 5 seconds before that.

Markus Howard missed a three that would’ve given the Golden Eagles the lead. Drat! HOWEVER, the possession was salvaged by OUR Milkman, Matt Heldt. In the swarm of humanity condensed around the basket, Heldt emerged victorious with a clean rebound and an immediate kickout to Sam for the three.

“What was the second most important play then?” — You, the astute reader.

It was Heldt’s OTHER offensive rebound, which he finished off with a reverse layup. Swoon. His offensive rating was 222 today.

Exaggerated fanboy musings aside, the decision to give Heldt the lion’s share of Theo’s minutes over Morrow was an unprecedented one by Wojo, and it worked out today. Heldt just works so much better in the flow of the offense. Morrow plays with an intensity unmatched by anyone on the team, but it can get the best of him when he gets the ball. A great example of that today was when he got a post touch and immediately went directly into Tyrique Jones’ chest and threw up a brick. Heldt just knows where the best shots are, and I think we’ll see more of him when John needs a rest. I personally would like to see Morrow and Heldt on the floor together, but I’m on the couch wearing the same shorts that I’ve worn the past 3 days. [Editor’s note: Not all heroes wear capes.]

Of the three 20 points scorers today (lol), the one that stuck out to me was Joey Hauser. He had 21 points on 6-for-10 shooting, including 5-for-6 from deep. The confidence he has in his outside shot has added a whole new dimension to his game. The threes he’s taking are no longer wide open. He’s shooting right in people’s faces and making them. This is exactly what the offense needs to elevate this team to a legitimate tournament contender in March.

The team still needs work inside the arc, though. They were 14-for-33 today. The whole “You can’t rely on threes every night” mantra ranges from overblown to completely untrue, but teams do need a Plan B. When there are off nights, this team needs other ways to score and they can’t pray for foul calls whenever they sniff the basket.

There aren’t a whole lot of subpar teams left on the schedule now. From Wednesday on, every game will be close. Next up is Butler on the road. They can’t afford to play the first 27 minutes like they did today or they’ll get blown out. Then again, we can never count this team out.