After St. John's handed the golden eagles their first double-digit loss of the season, they bounced back with a 9-point win over the Seton Hall Pirates at the Bradley Center on Saturday. MU is now 16-11 on the season and 7-7 in conference play.
The first half was pretty evenly matched, with MU winning the battle on the glass, but coughing up turnovers to keep Seton Hall in the game. In the second half, MU exerted its home court dominance in several key areas to pull away from Seton Hall for good.
Here's what went well for MU:
- Rebounds. Marquette out-rebounded Seton Hall 39-21 (12-6 on offensive boards). The Marquette bigs did a great job of boxing out on missed shots, which resulted in a lot of boards. A few of them, including one from Joe Fulce, were simply jump balls that Marquette came up with due to better hustle. Because of this, Seton Hall never went on more than a 5 or 6-point run, which kept them from gaining any momentum.
- Fouls. We all know this is part of MU's bread-and-butter this season, and last night's contest was no different. Not only did Marquette take 15 more shots from the foul line than Seton Hall, but two of Seton Hall's big men, Herb Pope and Patrik Auda, fouled out with key minutes remaining. Chris Otule can be credited with drawing most of the contact from these guys. Keeping these two bigs on the bench opened up the paint for MU to make back-door cuts and create passing lanes on the strong side of the rack.
- MU's Big Men. Despite getting into foul trouble, Chris Otule had a monster night for the time he was on the floor. In just 20 minutes, Otule put up 10 points, 8 boards, and a block. He was well-positioned under the hoop for the easy putback shots which kept MU in the game during their cold shooting streaks in the first half. Davante Gardner also had another efficient game, with 7 points and 6 boards in just 11 minutes. With every game I'm seeing both of these guys get better and better, and it makes me feel a lot better about how good our front-court is going to be next season. If Gardner can drop about 15-20 pounds over this summer, he's going to be incredibly dangerous next year.
And now what didn't go so well for the golden eagles:
Turnovers. Marquette lost the turnover battle last night 14-9 on 66 possessions. At a rate of 21%, this was clearly a poor night for taking care of the basketball. The frustrating part wasn't that Seton Hall played phenomenal defense to force those turnovers, but that Marquette beat themselves to cough up the ball. Drives into traffic by Cadougan and Blue with no outlet lead to Seton Hall possessions which kept us from creating any kind of sizable lead in the first half. This is a team that has to dominate on offense to beat the great teams, and stats like turnovers absolutely kill an offense.
Vander Blue. While I have great hopes for him in the coming years, he's a serious liability on offense. 8 times out of 10 he'll drive to the hoop without looking for the open man which results in Seton Hall getting the basketball (Blue had 3 of the 14 MU turnovers). While he does play great on-the-ball defense, he'll need to step up his game on the other end of the floor to take a leadership role with this team. 2-pointers, assists, free throws, I don't care what it is, just not turnovers.
And the mediocre stat of the night?
Free throws. The woes from the charity stripe continued in the first half as MU shot an "impressive" 2-10 from the line. The second half was much much better, as they shot 14-16 on free throws. The overall result? 62%. I at least felt "ok" about our free throws after that second half.
Enough about the game, Dan. Are we going to make the tournament?
I think there are two scenarios that guarantee us a bid to The Dance. The first scenario: win out in the regular season. An 11-7 conference record with a road win over UConn would give us the resume we need to get in. The second scenario: lose at UConn, win the other 3 conference games, and win 2 games in the Big East Tournament. A 10-win record in Big East play and 21 overall wins (I think we need 21 wins instead of 20 given our woes on the road) will also get us in the dance. While I'd love to see the first scenario play out, the second is more realistic. Maybe 20 wins puts us in the dance, but with the amount of teams vying for bids from the Big East, and the fact that we can't win on the road, I don't think we're guaranteed a ticket with 20 wins.