As of late, the Marquette men’s basketball season could be compared to a bad joke told over and over again. Nearly every Big East game has been a hard-fought battle decided in the last seconds. And nearly every game has gone against the Golden Eagles.
“A close loss does hurt, but you never want to lose two in a row,” junior forward Jimmy Butler said. “So going into the next one you need to be fired up. We always say ‘OK, last game was a close one, let’s not let it happen this time.’”
Following a heartbreak loss at DePaul, Marquette lost by five points to then-No. 5 Syracuse Saturday. The Golden Eagles looked strong out of the gate but surrendered an early lead as the Orange pulled away in the second half. Marquette, as it always seems to do, made a furious comeback in the waning moments of the game, but came up short, falling 76-71.
Butler scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in 37 minutes but couldn’t shut down Syracuse’s inside attack. The Orange scored 56 points in the paint and shot 58.5 percent for the game. Wesley Johnson exploded for 22 points and 15 rebounds while Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku contributed 12 points apiece.
“We have to rebound more,” Butler said. “We got outrebounded by a large margin against Syracuse. It was hard to guard their big men because they had us so oversized. It was a really tough match up.”
With the exception of Marquette’s 93-63 destruction of Providence, every Big East game for the Golden Eagles has been decided by five points or less. Although Marquette stands at a mediocre 11-8 overall, its ability to compete with the nation’s elite is impressive for a team that basically runs eight players deep, now that freshman Junior Cadougan is back from injury.
“It was my first experience so I was really excited. … At first, I was a little jittery but eventually I got comfortable because that’s what I do — play basketball,” Cadougan said about the Syracuse game. “I was practicing the whole week, and my teammates felt it was time for me to step in. I wasn’t even thinking about my eligibility. I was just thinking about helping my team win.”
With Cadougan back and the team needing to catch fire, tonight’s match up against Rutgers (9-10) could be just what the Golden Eagles need. Although no game in conference is considered easy, Rutgers is 0-7 in the Big East and has lost by an average of 18.6 points per game.
“We’ve been preparing real well for Rutgers,” junior guard Dwight Buycks said. “They’re a real fast-tempo team that likes to push the ball. They average about 80 possessions per game so we need to slow down the game and execute our game and not look past them.”
Marquette now needs to solve the riddle of winning close games as the postseason draws nearer. Although NCAA Tournament talk has lingered since the beginning of the season, Cadougan said the team focuses on the task at hand and doesn’t get caught up in the postseason talk.
“We never think ahead or about the next game,” he said. “We think about the day. We work hard every day leading up to that game. We’re just focused on today and that will lead into (the Rutgers) game.”