With their respective post-season dreams on the line, Marquette and Seton Hall both battled at Prudential Center last night. Marquette (14-10, 6-5), looking to stave off the horror of missing their first NCAA tournament since 2004-05, and Seton Hall (13-11, 4-7) vying for some type of foothold in Big East play to gain momentum as the Big East Tournament fast approaches. Both teams landed blows, some quite literally, but it was the Golden Eagles, led by a career-high 25 points from forward Jamil Wilson, that would live to see another day, prevailing 77-66 in their fifth-straight defeat of Seton Hall.
Outscored 27-10 after leading 56-50 at the 9:22 mark in the second half, Seton Hall's demise wasn't sudden, a la Oklahoma, nor agonizingly slow and painful, like their inexcusable losses to Saint Peter's and Fairleigh Dickinson a couple months ago. The Pirates were outworked and outmuscled by a Buzz Williams coached team that prides itself on such attributes. The difference between the two sides was as measurable as the 900-some-odd miles between the two Big East schools.
Outrebounded 32-19 overall and 12-3 on the offensive boards (MU finished with a 42.9 OReb%), Marquette injected cat-like extra lives into themselves, scoring six easy points after hauling in three crucial rebounds after missed shots in the first half. All three were immediately converted into baskets. "If we rebound the basketball, which has been an Achilles heel for us... The big thing is not giving up 12, its only getting 3 [two of which were ‘team rebounds']," Kevin Willard explained in his post-game interview with Gary Cohen and Dave Popkin on 970 AM. "You have to get a second shot, you've got to get something. It's disappointing, it's a disappointing loss. We had opportunities, now we've got to try and bounce back." Seton Hall's 57-percent DReb% last night was their second-worst showing on the season, topped only by their 56-percent rate in a blowout of Eastern Washington in December.
So, why can those game-altering second chance points that Marquette cashed in on be labelled as "easy"? Some will blame poor blocking out on Seton Hall's part, while others will accredit Marquette's work rate. Both played a hand, but it appeared indisputable that Chris Otule, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, and even Todd Mayo, whose unlikely offensive board sparked an 11-0 Marquette run that snowballed into their 27-10 game-winning surge, had an extra pool of desire that they were tapping into. Five of Buzz Williams' soldiers snared rebounds from the offensive glass last night, while Fuquan Edwin was the lone Pirate to do so.
As if the 12 second chances on the offensive end weren't enough, Seton Hall turned the ball over 17 times, only seven of which were Marquette steals. The lack of ball security resulted in a 25.8-percent turnover percentage, or in simpler terms, Seton Hall turned the ball over 1 out of every 4 possessions. "We had some opportunities, but again, turnovers. A lot of turnovers. Just little things that kinda kill momentum hurt us today," said Willard.
The Pirates were 13-percent more accurate from inside the arc and 12-percent more accurate from beyond it than Marquette and assisted on seven more shots (+24% assist rate too) than the Golden Eagles. So how did Seton Hall lose again you ask? The points were hidden within Marquette's all-world 30-34 performance from the free throw stripe, another indicator of their superior attraction to attacking the hoop relentlessly. Upperclassmen Todd Mayo (9-10) and Davante "Ox" Gardner (10-11) were the main perpetrators of Marquette's assault on the charity stripe.
Prior to last night, Seton Hall's post-season hopes were hovering around the distant horizon, a possibility to some, unseen by others. Now, they are all but certainly a mirage to the optimists and a myth to those less optimistic. Heading into their home tie against cross-river rival St. John's tomorrow, which may be attended more sparsely than Marquette last night due to an impending snowstorm, Kevin Willard spoke post-game of quite a few changes in playing time for his team. In full:
On Brian Oliver getting shut down late in the game: "That's something that we're going to address tomorrow in practice. We've got to go back to playing with Jaren [Sina] and Sterling [Gibbs], it's our weakness right now, we've only got one guy that can go off the bounce and that's really Sterling. Jaren does a good job of distributing, but it's not really dribble penetration, it's more within the offense. I think we've got to go back to playing the two smaller guys together to give Sterling another option to get someone to dribble penetrate. It's what Villanova did to Brian [Oliver], it's what most teams are going to do, they're going to stay home and take something away. Sterling needs someone else there, and when Jaren's out there, it gives us two guys that can at least get the ball into the paint off the dribble. [Chris] Otule and [Davante] Gardner did a good job of getting off the line and battling Eugene [Teague]."
When asked about how Aaron Geramipoor played: "Aaron played well. I think Aaron is going to start getting more minutes, given the opportunity. Eugene was really rebounding the basketball well, but hes not offensive rebounding well now. [Teague averaged 3.6 OReb per game prior to Lafayette and 1.5 since.] I think Aaron is probably a little bit better of a defender because of his size. Maybe try to give Aaron a little bit more minutes to see what hes got. Try to play Jaren and Sterling together, do some different things with them defensively. Maybe play Patrik [Auda] and Brandon [Mobley] a little bit more together. Steph [Manga], I think its time to start looking to give some guys some minutes. Steph played really good against Xavier, I think we've got to give him an opportunity to see what's hes got. Quick turnaround, maybe good, maybe bad, we'll see."
Whatever Kevin Willard tries tomorrow night against a red-hot St. John's team that has won four of five Big East games since defeating Seton Hall at Carnesecca Arena, it must light a red-hot fire under his team.