Marquette had a mini road trip this week with games at Rutgers and Pitt. MU took care of business with a nice win at Rutgers on Wednesday, and expectedly lost to Pitt on Saturday.
The win over Rutgers was statistically a quality win, since it was on the road and Rutgers was in the RPI top 100 at the time. Marquette was in control for the entire game, and despite a late surge by the scarlet knights, the golden eagles made just enough points down the stretch to hang on for an eight point victory. Despite a sloppy performance, MU shot well enough to win 73-65.
DJO went off for a career-high 29 points, including going 5-8 from the perimeter. He's proved to be consistently inconsistent this season. MU lost the turnover battle, with turnovers on 16 of 61 possessions (26%). This was certainly MU's worst performance of the year as far as taking care of the basketball. Vander Blue chipped in 3 of those turnovers, although one of them he immediately made up for on the other end of the court by stealing a loose ball and calling time out while he was on the floor.
Dwight Buycks injured his thigh in practice after colliding with Davante Gardner and played just 11 minutes and scored no points. Junior Cadougan took the majority of the point guard role instead and while he had an impressive 8 assists to just one turnover, he seemed to be lost on offense. His main issue is that despite his quickness, he can't drive to the bucket. He'll get himself in trouble when the defense collapses on him and has to scramble for an outlet pass to rest the offense.
MU kept it interesting down the stretch as they only made 6 of their last 12 free throws, but Rutgers equally shot poorly from the charity stripe, going 4-11 for the night. It took until 2011, but MU finally got their first road win of the season (and no, playing "at" UWM does not count).
Interior play told the whole story for why Pitt won and MU lost at the Petersen Events Center this past Saturday. While Pitt only won by eight points, they were in control the entire way, and MU needed a late surge to only lose by single digits, with a final score of 89-81.
It's no secret that Pitt's bread and butter over recent years has been solid rebounding, especially on the offensive glass. This year is no different, as they are once again #1 in the country in offensive rebounding % at 47%. This was all-too-apparent throughout the game, even though only 25% of Pitt's boards were on offense, it seemed like every key miss for the panthers was rebounded by one of their players which then translated into 2 or 3 points. Overall Pitt out-rebounded MU 36-26.
This is also the second year in a row that Marquette has been torched by Pitt center Gary McGhee. He only averages 7 ppg on the season, but scored 12 against us. An under-sized team like us doesn't seem to have an answer for him. Lazar Hayward wasn't the answer last year, and Chris Otule surely wasn't the answer this year.
To couple with the costly rebounds, MU played terrible overall defense, allowing Pitt to shoot 60% from the field and 55% from beyond the arc (compared to MU's 42% and 35% for FG% and 3FG%, respectively). Too many of Pitt's dribble-drives and three pointers were uncontested by MU. While the latter of those two is nothing new, the former is a bit disconcerting. As Buzz has said, we're not good enough to play straight man-to-man defense and have to rely on "team defense" instead. The problem with team defense is that any team that's half-decent at passing will have a lot of good looks at three-pointers against us, and Pitt was no exception.
One bright note for MU is that they improved their recent turnover woes in impressive fashion, turning the ball over just twice in the game (both by Jae Crowder). This was what kept us in the game and helped prevent the blowout. Dwight Buycks also put up 19 points despite being questionable for starting in the game.
MU's next tough test (yet par for the course since it's the Big East) is home to rival Notre Dame for Big Monday. The January 4 edition of "Inside Marquette Basketball" offers a preview of tomorrow's game against ND.