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Rolling Along: Marquette 78, Ole Miss 72

Marquette continues to roll, getting its second straight Power 5 win to open the Charleston Classic.

Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic
Darryl Morsell continued his hot scoring streak on Thursday night against Ole Miss.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Golden Eagles keep rolling on!

After a plodding start and a familiar lead surrendered as in the first half of the Illinois game, a solid second-half performance and a tenacious defensive effort turned it around. Shaka Smart’s crew found a way to win, topping the Ole Miss Rebels 78-72, giving the Golden Eagle faithful who traveled in droves to Charleston, South Carolina, a win in the opening round of the Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic.

Marquette is now 4-0 in the Shaka Era, and things are looking as good as you hope they can. Playing tough, gritty, other synonyms for effort-filled defense. They’re also playing purpose-filled offense, getting shots they like, and playing in a system that makes sense for them. Playing inside-out basketball, the Golden Eagles shot 40.6% from deep and moved the ball quickly, and opened space effectively for most of the night.

It all started slow, going down 8-0 before scoring their first point and not getting that basket until over three minutes into the game and after burning a timeout two minutes into the game. A Daryl Morsell three finally put the Eagles on the board, but it wasn’t until the Rebels built their largest lead of the game at 12 did MU start to settle down.

From there, Marquette just chipped away. Morsell and freshman guard Kam Jones helped MU hang around and keep themselves in striking distance. Jones scored 10 of the Eagles’ 31 first-half points, including 8 straight at one point, to help cut into that 12-point lead. Toss in a spectacular buzzer-beating three before halftime from David Joplin (also assisted by Kam Jones on the inbound), and all of a sudden, it was a more manageable five point deficit by halftime.

After the break, it was The Justin Lewis Show.

With Lewis scoring the first 11 points off the halftime intermission after making just one field goal in the first frame, the Eagles would narrow the lead to 2 before a steal, and a Moresell three would give Marquette their first lead of the game. A lead they would grind with for the majority of the half, it wasn’t until the four-minute mark in the half did they get out to a lead of more than two possessions and really never looked back.

The difference in the halves came down to the Golden Eagles feeling more comfortable playing without the ball and getting into their offense more effectively, especially when driving the ball to the hoop. On defense, Marquette didn’t allow the Rebels to kill them from the outside, forcing Ole Miss to go just 2-for-9 from deep in the second after giving up 6 of 11 in the first half.

While the Rebels did dominate in the “points-in-the-paint-battle,” the Marquette big men did an excellent job of battling in the paint while not giving up free opportunities…and when they did foul and give up free throws, Ole Miss simply could not capitalize. The Rebels ended the game shooting just 4-for-13 from the charity stripe.

The simple answer for how the Marquette offense could find its rhythm and create winning offense is that they shot better. The more complicated answer is that their commitment to the drive-and-kick-based offense paid dividends when it led to more open shooting looks on the kicks and being aggressive on the drive leading to Ole Miss fouling.

The most significant difference in the game may have been as simple as Marquette being money from the line and Ole Miss being…well, not. Ole Miss was better from their field, shooting at 46.8% compared to MU’s 42.9% on 6 fewer attempts. They were virtually equal from three, shooting at 40% (though Marquette did so on 12 more attempts). Still, the most glaring difference on the slash line was Marquette shooting a respectable 89.5% on free throws relative to Rebel’s shocking low 40%.

While missing free throws is not something the Marquette defense can control, their ability to limit the opposition to just three field goals in the final three minutes, and five in the last seven, is something worth celebrating. Tack on four kills (!) in those final seven minutes, including nine straight stops, and you’re really on to something. This is now the second time that Shaka’s defense has clearly gotten Marquette a victory in as many games, particularly late in the game when the Golden Eagles needed the stops.

It was a major question as to how fast the defensive identity/culture that Shaka Smart wanted to implement would take to actually arrive…and it seems it’s come far earlier than expected.

From an individual angle, the team’s veterans led the way tonight, but it wasn’t without the help of its youngsters. Justin Lewis had 21 points, and a team-high 9 rebounds with most of all of that coming in the second half. Darryl Morsell led the way in scoring, cashing 22 on 5-for-10 shooting and going 9-for-10 from the line. But without the 18 points, 3 assists, and the first half spark Kam Jones provided, it’s very easy to see a world where this game gets out of hand quickly…and the hole Marquette finds itself in too great to conquer.

Up Next: Onward in Charleston! It will be a quick turnaround as the tournament rolls on, and Marquette will, barring something weird in the next six minutes, see West Virginia in the semifinals at 6pm on Friday night. The Mountaineers are up 76-60 right before the six-minute mark after the Phoenix were holding tight through the first half. Huggy Bear and Shaka will meet again after years of matchups in the Big 12 when Smart was the head coach at Texas. WVU was placed 5th in the Big 12 preseason poll, so this likely represents another opportunity to get a win over an NCAA tournament-bound team.