If the goal is to make the first half go so well that the second half basically does not matter, mission accomplished for Marquette men’s basketball on Tuesday night. They didn’t miss a shot against North Carolina Central for nearly nine minutes, running up a 16 point lead. After that happened, Marquette went on a separate 16-2 run that left them up 21 with 3:25 left in the first half.
The margin at the half was 23 points, 52-29, and mostly speaking, the second half didn’t really matter as Marquette wrapped up a 90-78 victory against NC Central in the final home game of the non-conference schedule this season. Marquette is now 7-3 on the season with only one road game standing between them and Big East play.
The biggest thing to note about the game is the tenor and attitude from Marquette that we saw out of the gate. After a first half against Wisconsin that could be favorable described as laconic and less favorably as disinterested, the Golden Eagles came out with the same enthusiasm and energy that we saw in the first half of the Baylor game. It’s not that they were dismantling the Eagles in the same way that they took apart the Bears, but they were attacking them on both ends of the court in a way that we didn’t see on Saturday.
If you did the math, you noticed that NC Central took that 16 point lead when the Golden Eagles weren’t missing and cut it back to just seven points after they started missing a couple of shots. The fact that MU responded to that by ripping off a 16-2 run to firmly flip the game in their favor, particularly after what we saw in the Wisconsin game, is a very good thing.
You wanna talk about the second half? It’s not all bad. Marquette pushed the lead to 28 less than two minutes in. The fact that it was back under 20 two minutes after that isn’t great, but MU mostly held the fort here. For a good long while, it looked like NC Central wasn’t going to figure out how to cut the lead smaller than 15, and yeah, losing 13 points off your margin is bad, but MU’s offense was REALLY good in the first half (1.46 points per possession) and their defense was also REALLY good (0.78/possession for NCCU). These things were bound to even out at least a little bit after intermission, just in a “neither of these are sustainable” way. Keeping it at 15 isn’t the worst thing in the world.
A free throw from Olivier-Maxence Prosper — who was great in this game, by the way —nudged it back to 20 with 8:17 to play. Oso Ighodaro got it to 22 on MU’s next trip down the floor. Seven minutes and change to go. This is good.
Marquette would score just nine points the rest of the way.
The lead would shrink as small as 11, and Marquette immediately committed a halfcourt violation on the ensuing possession. That’s bad, but also there was 1:34 to play at that point. Five of MU’s nine points in the final 7 and change came in the last 47 seconds of the game as Kam Jones (2-2) and Stevie Mitchell (2-3) tacked on some free throws at the very end to wrap it up safely.
If you want to be upset about how the final seven minutes went, I’m not going to blame you, but it’s also not the biggest thing in the world. Am I defaulting a lot of this to saying that NCCU head coach LeVelle Moton is really good at his job and absolutely was telling his charges to keep fighting and it worked? Yeah, I am, because I like LeVelle Moton.
OMax Prosper finished with 25 points on a very silly 11-for-14 shooting, and he added four rebounds all in the second half to go with his two assists and a block. Kam Jones (16) and Oso Ighodaro (10) also got into double digits in the scoring column. Four guys, including MU’s top three scorers along with David Joplin, tied for the team lead in reagbounds with three, while Ighodaro took home the assists crown for the night, beating out Tyler Kolek, 7-6.
How about some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and Fox Sports?
Up Next: A trip to sunny South Bend, Indiana, to visit Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 6-2 on the year with a Wednesday home game against Boston University — the Patriot League team, not the ACC college — still pending before MU makes their way there. MU will be the best KenPom ranked team that the Irish have seen all season, and it’s worth noting that Mike Brey’s team has dropped 32 spots in the KenPom rankings since the season started.