The golden eagles were able to do what they couldn't do two years ago as the #8 team in the country: win in Tampa. Tonight Marquette escaped with a 59-58 victory over the South Florida Bulls.
Both halves were like watching night and day. In the first half, MU got nothing going on offense, and gave up easy drives on defense. Nobody could score, nobody could guard. At the end of the half, the team that averages 79 points per game had just 24 points. Maybe it was the warm weather in Tampa, but Marquette just seemed to show no signs of life.
The second half didn't start out much better, with poor interior defense and horrific turnovers (Buycks passed one to the scorer's table). MU trailed by as much as 16 points during the game, and things seemed to be out of reach. "We're changing the channel if we're down 20 points." Frankly, I agreed with her at that point.
But something sparked our boys from Mil-town, and with 15 minutes left, the golden eagles began their charge. Slowly but surely they chipped away at the lead, and soon enough we were within 9 points. MU pressed all half against USF and it worked like a charm, forcing turnovers that translated into key buckets. Frustration set in for the bulls and coach Stan Heath, and you could tell they had been here before. "How are we going to blow it this time?"
With more of the same down the stretch, MU pulled to within 2 points, and thanks to a three-ball by Jae Crowder, all of a sudden we had the lead. We traded leads one more time, and with a second three-pointer from Jae Crowder, this one a fade-away, we had a 4-point lead, and you felt like they might pull this one out.
MU tried to blow the lead, forcing turnovers on defense but going 0-8 down the stretch from the free throw line. After missing the 8th free throw in a row, 2 seconds on the clock, a 3-point lead, and a rebound by USF, Jae Crowder intentionally fouled Toarlyn Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick made the first free throw, tried to miss the second one off the glass, but it went in. MU quickly inbounded the ball, and the game was over.
A few thoughts on tonight's game:
- Although I'm a Buzz Williams fan, I completely disagree with his decision to intentionally foul after the last missed free throw. USF had no time-outs and 2 seconds to heave up a three-pointer, leaving them virtually no chance at getting up a god shot if we just played a little bit of defense. Instead, we let them go down by a point with a good chance of getting a rebound on a missed shot and tying up the game. Which shot would you rather have USF take: a half-court shot or a 10-footer?
- Vander Blue was a serious offensive liability in this game. Aside from one good pass to Jae Crowder in the paint, he tried to take matters into his own hands every time he touched the ball, and every time it resulted in a turnover. He needs to take a few notes from Jimmy Butler, who is an incredibly smart player with the ball in his hands and virtually never takes a dumb shot. Once Vander Blue realizes he can pass the ball when he's in trouble, he'll be just fine.
- I know South Florida is a weak team in the Big East and a team everyone expected us to beat. But I don't care who you're up against, if you're down 16 points on the road and you come back to win, that's something special. You've gotta give Buzz some credit for rallying his team and pulling out a W.
Marquette's next match-up is at G-town on Sunday. A win in D.C. would be huge for us. But then again, when is a road win in the Big East not huge?