Was it the best 40 minutes of basketball that you’ve ever seen from Marquette men’s basketball? Not even close.
But it was a win, 79-69, over Radford at Fiserv Forum on Monday night, and MU is now 1-0 in Shaka Smart’s second season on the sidelines.
Here’s the good news: Marquette never trailed, opening up the season 17 seconds in with a Kam Jones three-pointer. In fact, Radford never even tied it, and after some standard early back-and-forth, they never even got closer than three points the entire rest of the game. If we broke it down — I’m not going to for this recap, feel free to do it and post in the comments — I suspect that Marquette was winning by double digits more often than not even though the lead didn’t get to 10 for the first time until the 3:21 mark of the first half.
And yet, this game was still very much in doubt with two minutes to play.
We’ll get back to it in a second.
The first half was.... a half of basketball. It felt a lot like a team that didn’t have a double-digit scorer returning trying to figure out how to function on offense while knowing that they could rely on their defense to let them figure the offense out eventually..... which is exactly what Marquette is, or at least should be under Smart’s guidance. Late in the frame, the Golden Eagles started to get their act together. A bucket from Oso Ighodaro, the game’s leading scorer by the end, got an 8-0 Marquette going at the 5:06 mark, and David Joplin’s two freebies with 3:11 before intermission to close it left the Golden Eagles leading 36-24. Radford would shake the tree a little bit in the closing minutes of the half, and after a Olivier-Maxence Prosper dunk with 29 seconds to go AND a stop by Marquette after a timeout AND an awful inbounds attempt after MU called a time out with 1.5 seconds to go, MU was up by eight, 42-34, after 20 minutes.
They were playing good defense, holding the Highlanders to just 0.81 points per possession in the opening 20, Marquette just didn’t have the offensive juice to blow the doors open.
Ighodaro scored twice in the first two minutes of the second half as part of a 6-0 run to open the frame and put Marquette up 14 before Radford realized that the second half had started. When they did realize it, MU was in trouble. The Highlanders cracked off a 16-5 run to pull themselves within three, 53-50, with 13:31 to go. Shaka Smart called timeout..... and Joplin promptly coughed it up on the ensuing possession.
Nope, Marquette got it back on a steal from OMax 11 seconds later, and after a quick flip ahead to freshman Chase Ross, Marquette was off to the race. Ross’ dunk on the runout was the first bucket in a 16-0 run that stretched nearly six minutes long before the Highlanders scored again. A pair of freebies from Prosper capped off the run and left MU up 69-50, and the clock wound under eight minutes to play shortly thereafter.
Seems solid, right? Well, it was, mostly. After Madiaw Niang broke the run, Ighodaro scored and following a block by freshman Ben Gold, Prosper got a jumper in the paint to go, and it was a 21 point margin, 73-52, 6:15 to go.
Okay, no problem!
Okay, big problem. Marquette would not score again until there was less than a minute to play. Tyler Kolek’s free throws with exactly 59 seconds left broke off a 14-0 Radford run, but did so to put MU’s lead back to nine. That’s why you get a 21 point lead, to give yourself a cushion to fall asleep for five minutes. Was Shaka Smart playing with his lineups in there, giving Keeyan Itejere his first ever appearance in a Marquette uniform and mixing and matching to see what worked? Maybe! Did nothing work for five straight minutes? Definitely!
MU was never in danger, though. Well, okay, maybe a little danger when Josiah Jeffers scored to make it a seven point game with 2:03 to go. Did Jeffers miss two freebies to 1) give everyone in the building free shakes from Shake Shack and 2) help the Golden Eagles out big time? Yes! Daquan Smith followed up Kolek’s free throws with a triple to make it a six point game, but Radford was forced to foul with an ever decreasing amount of seconds left to play. Kolek ended up 4-4 in the final minute and Joplin put in two in the middle of Kolek’s set, and that was that, 10 point win, never any doubt.
With MU allowing just 0.86 points per possession across 40 minutes, it certainly feels like the biggest problem in the game was the offense. The Golden Eagles shot just 5-for-19 from long range, and 26% just isn’t going to cut it on a lot of nights. Still, 18 assists as a team on 27 makes sounds pretty good, so perhaps it’s just an issue of shots falling and perhaps a few too many turnovers with so many new guys in the lineup than anything else.
Oso Ighodaro fouled out after 25 minutes of action, but he had 19 points to lead all scorers, and added seven rebounds, one block, and two steals. Tyler Kolek’s shot wasn’t working, but he did go 7-for-7 from the stripe to finish with nine points alongside his eight rebounds and nine assists. Ighodaro was joined in double digit point town by OMax Prosper (13), Stevie Mitchell (11), and Kam Jones, who had all 10 of his in the first 10 minutes of the game and then did not score again.
Chase Ross looked like a defensive pest in the making in his Marquette debut, chipping in seven points. Sean Jones played 13 minutes in his debut, adding four points, one rebound, two assists, and a steal. Zach Wrightsil hit one of his two shots in his first six minutes of Division 1 action. Ben Gold played five minutes, but found time for two rebounds, a steal and a block in his collegiate debut, and Keeyan Itejere saw just two minutes of playing time in his first MU contest after redshirting last season and only added a foul in that stretch.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and Fox Sports?
Up Next: Marquette will be at home on Thursday night, but they will not be at Fiserv Forum. They will be at the McGuire Center to host Central Michigan. That game is set to tip off at 7pm Central and tickets are only available to Marquette students. It will be broadcast on TV however, as FS2 gets the nod. The Chippewas won their lone exhibition game and will be making their season debut in Milwaukee.