The Marquette men's basketball team has made strides all season long, improving most every aspect of its game.
But one fault that the Golden Eagles haven't been able to overcome has been their tendency to play to the level of the opponent, instead of always playing their game.
While this can be a good thing when playing against better teams, in most cases it has hurt the Golden Eagles (22-4, 11-2 Big East). Such was the case in Marquette's 79-67 win over Seton Hall.
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Jerel McNeal missed his first two shots-both 3-pointers-while the Pirates leading scorer Jeremy Hazell hit just one of his first four.
Marquette committed nine turnovers at the half, while Seton Hall threw away nine of its own possessions.
The Golden Eagles pulled in five offensive rebounds, but also allowed the Pirates to do the same.
The lead changed hands six times in the first half and was tied on three different occasions.
"You could see that (Marquette) was like, 'Hey, this team could beat us,' " Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez said. "I think we got their attention."
At the half Marquette trailed 34-37, while shooting just 40 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from the 3-point line. The site was not what one might expect out of a top-10 team, not what one might expect out of a team that was 5-7 in conference play before tonight.
"They're a confident team," senior guard Wesley Matthews said. "They've got a lot of talent…We knew they weren't going to back down. They were going to throw their punch, we had to throw our punch."
Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, another trend they have continued throughout the season has been to come out in the second half playing like a team capable of winning the Big East.
Marquette came out of the intermission searing, and with 14:24 left in the game Seton Hall center John Garcia picked up his fifth foul. As the big man sauntered to the bench amidst chants of "Left! Right! Left!" from the crowd, Hazell and the Seton Hall bench were each charged with technical fouls. Matthews made 3-of-4 of the technical free throws, while Hayward sank both of his free throws.
Suddenly Marquette owned a 13-point lead, capping off a 19-5 run out of the break.
"I warned them at halftime," Gonzalez said. "But I think it came a little quicker than our guys expected.
"They're the type of team, that if they see a crack in the door they kick the door open."
From there the game was a series of Marquette ally oops and fast-break dunks that resulted in the Golden Eagles leading by as much as 24 points.
Seton Hall would mount a small comeback to make the score more respectable by game's end, but in reality it was a much more lopsided contest than the final score connotes.
Matthews led all scorers with 24 points, shooting 7-for-12 from the floor and 9-for-12 from the free throw line. Senior guards Jerel McNeal and Dominic James combined for 26 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists, but they also turned the ball over 14 times between them.
While the numbers didn't necessarily improve for Marquette (41.2 percent shooting in the second half) the team continued its tale of two halves, forcing another 14 turnovers from Seton Hall before the final buzzer.
"I thought in the second half we were maybe as good as we possibly have been all year long defensively," coach Buzz Williams said. "That definitely trends toward us being much better offensively."