Things that make National Marquette Day a success: The men’s basketball team winning their home game that is at the center of the festivities.
As such, Saturday was a gigantic success, as YOUR #14 ranked Marquette Golden Eagles defeated Butler, 60-52, at Fiserv Forum. Marquette is now 19-5 on the season and 11-2 in Big East play, which continues to have them locked in a tie with Xavier atop the conference standings.
That’s the headline on the day. The fact of the matter is that no one is walking away from the downtown Milwaukee arena or their local NMD viewing party thinking that Marquette looked very good against Butler on Saturday. Yes, Butler never led as Marquette opened up an 8-0 lead out of the gate and led 16-3 before seven full minutes had wound off the clock. But from there, Marquette wouldn’t score for another seven minutes, and the Bulldogs had closed the game to 16-13 thanks to a 10-0 run capped by a three-pointer from Ali Ali.
That is the closest that Butler would get for the rest of the game, but that doesn’t mean that MU was ever comfortable in this game. A Jalen Thomas layup with 3:02 left in the first half pulled Butler within five again, 25-20, and generally speaking, it’s not a good sign that Marquette had only scored nine points since that 16-3 start, not with the way MU’s offense has been cruising along this season. Marquette did have a big finish to the half, though. Tyler Kolek specifically had a big finish, scoring with 34 seconds left, then cashing two free throws after Ali committed a flagrant foul on a breakaway in the closing seconds, then hitting Kam Jones in the corner on the ensuing inbounds to catch Jones’ defender unaware and get that First Team Ready three-pointer as time expired.
At the half, Marquette 32, Butler 20, and boy, it did not feel like it was a 12 point game..... mostly because it was a five point game just 35 seconds earlier.
Marquette spent most of the second half effectively just trading buckets with Butler. That’s good news, as it meant the lead just hovered in the general area of 10-ish points for most of the half..... but also it means that Marquette’s offense still wasn’t clicking. Both teams shot under 46% in the second half and they combined for 13 turnovers, eight by the Bulldogs and five by the Golden Eagles.
Oso Ighodaro scored on consecutive possessions for Marquette midway through the second half sandwiched around a Taylor layup, and it was MU by 15 after each Ighodaro bucket, 49-34, after the second one, 9:57 to play. That sounds good, and it was at the time, but y’all can read that score at the top of the page and/or remember how this went. Over a nearly six minute stretch, Butler went on a 16-6 run led by seven points from Simas Lukosius. 3:30 to go, Marquette up just five, 55-50.
But here’s the thing: Marquette’s defense worked. At the end of the day, this was the third best efficiency defense that MU has thrown together all season, with only the LIU game and the “look at all the turnovers!” game against Seton Hall beating it out. That run by Butler? Lukosius’ bucket to cap it? That was their last field goal of the game. The defense hasn’t worked for solid stretches of this season, and a lot of that recently. The Golden Eagles have gotten by with the offense throwing straight fire all of the time, and that wasn’t the case in this game. At the under-4 timeout in the second half, Chase Ross was Marquette’s leading scorer... and while there’s nothing wrong with that, Ross had 10 points, and he had only just gotten to 10 fairly recently. MU would finish this one having reached both their deflections goal (32) and their kills/three consecutive stops goal (8). But it did take the whole game to get there.
And I mean the literal whole game. Kolek scored a tough layup with 1:31 to go following Marquette’s seventh kill of the game, and after Taylor hit two freebies to make it a six point game with 1:22 to play, Ighodaro pulled in the defensive rebound on each of Butler’s final three possessions of the game to secure the eighth and final kill. We can’t possibly end this mention of the very end of the game without talking about Stevie Mitchell clamping the hell out of first Lukosius, then Taylor, then Manny Bates.... all on one possession, all with Marquette up just six with just under a minute to go. Watch #4:
During our interview last week Tyler Kolek spoke about bringing intensity to practice,— Ryan Cassidy (@ryancassidycbb) February 4, 2023
"This year that guy is Stevie Mitchell... he's just a winning guy with all the things that he does"
Late in the game against Butler those winning habits showed up pic.twitter.com/tnubQARkwj
Thanks to his late layup and two free throws to ice it, Tyler Kolek led the team in scoring with 13 points, and Olivier-Maxence Prosper got to 10 to match Ross as well. Kolek added eight assists, three rebounds, and a steal to his day to earn his third straight KenPom.com game MVP, his fourth in the last five games, and fifth since the calendar flipped to 2023. David Joplin came off the bench to lead the team in rebounds with six, and he added five points and two steals as well. Freshman forward Ben Gold played a season high 19 minutes, chipping in a bucket and two rebounds.
Can I interest you in some highlights, courtesy of GoMarquette.com and Fox Sports?
Up Next: Marquette is on a five game winning streak, and they’ve won 10 of the last 11. That’s good! With that in mind, their next four games may determine whether or not they win a Big East title. First up: One of the two riskiest road games left on the slate this season. That’s a visit to Connecticut on Tuesday night, with tipoff scheduled for 5:30pm Central on FS1. The Huskies have won three of their last four after a stretch where they lost five of six, and they just barely squeaked past Georgetown in D.C. on Saturday.