It wasn’t pretty. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The Marquette men’s basketball team (4-0) took down South Dakota 82-69 on Sunday in a game where it never trailed but never seemed completely in command either.
“I thought we were average at best,” coach Buzz Williams said. “I thought it was by far our worst performance of the year. (We) did not play ‘us’ on either end of the floor, and until we do that, we’ll struggle to have a lot of success.”
Playing against smaller foes on the interior, senior forward Jimmy Butler and redshirt sophomore center Chris Otule had their best performances of the season. Butler was one board shy of a double-double, posting a season-high 20 points and nine rebounds, while Otule had two career highs, putting up 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Butler and Otule’s clutch performances came on the heels of senior forward Joe Fulce being ruled out of action for at least two weeks with a torn knee ligament in his non-operated knee, and freshman forward Davante Gardner leaving Saturday’s match shortly after sustaining a left shoulder injury.
“Disappointed, man,” Williams said of Fulce’s injury. “He’s like my son. He’s not the best player in our league, but he’s a very important guy to our culture. I just wanted him to be able to go out in the best way that he could, whatever that is.”
The injury bug is eerily reminiscent of last year, when Marquette saw Otule and sophomore guard Junior Cadougan go down with what were thought to be season-ending injuries. Unlike last season, though, Marquette has much more depth at every position, and it showed against the Coyotes.
Four players scored in double figures, with junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and senior guard Dwight Buycks scoring 14 and 11 points, respectively. Junior forward Jae Crowder and freshman guard Vander Blue, both new to the program this season, chipped in seven points each.
There are plenty of areas for improvement, though. The three-point line, the bread and butter of last season’s surprisingly successful team, has been unkind to the Golden Eagles this year.
Marquette is shooting a meager 32.5 percent from long distance, good for 195th best in the country. By comparison, last season’s squad ranked sixth in the country in three-point percentage, knocking them down at a 40.6 percent clip in the regular season. The Golden Eagles must find their stroke soon if they want to be competitive come Big East time.
Only 11.5 percent of their points have come from behind the arc, the 341st worst percentage in the country. Opponents will only get bigger and will be much more difficult to overpower down low.
Equally disconcerting has been Marquette’s defense against the three-ball. Marquette has allowed opponents to shoot 41.2 percent from long range. South Dakota hit nine threes against Marquette, bringing the total it has allowed for the season up to 35 in just four games.
“We didn’t take away their three-point shot, and they hit a lot of those,” Butler said. “I don’t think we took them out of their game very well at all.”