Finally, the golden eagles came up with a signature win to bolster their tournament resume with a 74-67 victory in overtime against UConn in Hartford. With the win, Marquette improved to 17-11 and 8-7 in conference play.
The huskies got out to a quick 11-3 lead, but MU stormed back through solid zone defense and interior scoring. With a 3-point lead, Dwight Buycks was fouled making a 3-pointer and converted the 4-point play to put the golden eagles up 7. UConn also had a poor 20 minutes of shooting which MU was able to capitalize on. At the end of the half, Jimmy Butler made a tough 20-footer to put Marquette up by 11 at the half, and things were looking great.
But we've all seen this before, and just like the other times, we coughed up the lead and let UConn right back in the game. The huskies dominated the glass in the second half and Kemba Walker began to take over the game and simply couldn't miss. The same shooting woes that UConn had in the first half transferred to Marquette in the second half, and the golden eagles didn't score a field goal until the 8th minute in the half when Dwight Buycks drained a three. Surprisingly, Vander Blue was one of our only sources of offense during those 8 minutes as he managed to draw contact on a couple drives and knock down his free throws. Jae Crowder made a couple dumb fouls early on in the second half and played with 4 fouls most of the way. Things weren't looking good down the stretch in Hartford.
With the final minutes winding down, the game became incredibly tight, and missed rebounds caused Marquette to blow its chance to put the game away in regulation. Down 2 with 35 seconds, UConn took the ball up the floor, and after a clutch steal, shot fake, and layup by Darius Johnson-Odom, the golden eagles had tied the game at 59 apiece. UConn couldn't convert in the final seconds which took the game to overtime.
From there, MU put up an impressive performance in its first overtime game of the year and was in control the whole way. Where Kemba Walker left off, DJO picked up and had 9 of his 17 points in OT. Marquette made its free throws down the stretch and UConn turned the ball over too many times to put up a fight.
Tonight was not our most impressive night offensively. The golden eagles average 1.16 points per possession, and tonight they had just 1 point per possession. 20% from 3-point range (0-7 for DJO) and 37% overall from the field. Although Jimmy Butler had his usual performance with 16 points, he was cold at times from the floor too, going 6-16 overall. Some of the shots he took were ones he'd normally pass away, and even missed a few easy layups. But since he played for 44 of the 45 minutes you still gotta give him props.
Like I said before, UConn dominated the golden eagles on the boards. Tally at the end was 52-39 UConn. The most frustrating part about this was a lot of those boards could've or did go Marquette's way, but they just seemed to cough the ball up to UConn before we had clear possession of it. The huskies are one of the tallest teams in the country, so I guess I can live with this.
The real difference maker for MU was turnovers, as we dominated on this front 17-8. Despite DJO's shooting woes during regulation, he came up with four steals during the game, including the one that eventually put the game into overtime. Teams like us that are offensively lop-sided need to win this battle to have a fighting chance against the top-tier teams.
From a defensive standpoint, I think we did a poor job of defending jump shots. Between fighting off ball screens and rotating on double-teams to the open man, MU left too many huskies open for three-pointers on the perimeter. While those shots didn't fall for UConn in the first half, they definitely began to fall in the second half. What was especially troubling about this was it wasn't just one player, it was Buycks, DJO, Butler, etc. This leads me to believe it's a coaching issue, and something Buzz needs to fix asap so that Marshon Brooks doesn't put up 52 points against us this Sunday.
On a side note, Buzz went hoarse from yelling during the first half and couldn't even speak to the team at halftime. Gotta love it.
This win will do some good for us in terms of RPI. UConn's currently 13th in the RPI, and our road win over them will certainly move us up a few pegs. Don't ask me why, but the NCAA tournament committee practically lives and dies by the RPI. It's a good measuring stick for a team, but it leaves out the all-important "eye test."
A side note on Jim Calhoun not coaching tonight. Say what you want about us beating a "Calhoun-less" team, it's still a quality win. The RPI doesn't say "Oh, this win isn't as good because Jim Calhoun wasn't coaching." The UConn players clearly weren't lost without him, otherwise they wouldn't have fought back in the second half to regain the lead. Kemba Walker was still Kemba Walker tonight regardless of who was coaching on the sidelines, UConn just happened to get beaten by a team who was desperate for a road win. And was today George Blaney's first day ever coaching a team, or even coaching UConn? Of course not. Yeah, there may be some bias in saying all of this, but I hope you get my point.
Marquette returns to Mil-town to take on Providence this Sunday.
Answer to the Trivia Question: Jerel McNeal is MU's all-time leader in steals with 287.