The men’s basketball team surely isn’t deserving of the “NIT” chants heard from the upper deck of the student section late in its 80-68 loss to St. John’s Tuesday night, but if the offense doesn’t improve in a hurry, those chants could easily become a reality.
For the third time in seven days, the offense did not eclipse the 70-point mark and failed to show up for the full 40 minutes, struggling to score just 30 points in the second half while committing 18 turnovers for the game against the Red Storm.
Even junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, the team’s leading scorer, had just six points in the second half, including a late lay-up with the game already out of reach. He finished with 14 points.
The Golden Eagles still have plenty of opportunities to solidify their place in the Big East, including a key home matchup against Seton Hall and a trip to No. 13/12 Connecticut. Defense might win championships, but it will have to be offense that allows Marquette to go dancing in March.
Part of the problem has been the Golden Eagles’ transition at the point guard position this season. Senior guard Dwight Buycks took over the role by default with sophomore guard Junior Cadougan backing him up after suffering a torn Achilles tendon a year ago.
Tuesday night, the pair’s up-and-down season continued, combining for seven points and nine assists, but also committing eight turnovers and keeping Marquette’s offense from getting into any rhythm in the second half.
With so much of Marquette’s offense relying on a point guard to distribute, committing 18 turnovers makes it hard to win any game, let alone a Big East battle.
“Your primary ball handlers, regardless of position, can’t turn it over that much,” coach Buzz Williams said. “You can look at everyone on the team and say we can’t turn it over like that.”
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin explained the second half adjustments his team made defensively resulted in a confused Marquette offense.
“We change our defenses to try and keep teams off balance,” Lavin said. “And then there’s the cumulative effect of wearing opponents down, and I think that’s why we’re able to separate late in the game.”
St. John’s constant full-court pressure, man-to-man defense and occasional zone threw off Marquette’s timing, just as shifting defenses by South Florida and Georgetown previously did against the Golden Eagles.
Marquette, still leading the Big East at 77.4 points per game, has averaged just 62.3 over its last three games, culminating in two losses and a last-minute victory over lowly South Florida.
“Some of it was carelessness that we’re not accustomed to,” Williams said of his team’s miscues. “Trying to feed it into the zone when there’s not a feed, or trying to make a play when there’s not a play.”
Numerous times, players would drive into the paint without knowing what their next move was going to be, resulting in a lost possession or a poor shot. Other times, players looked hesitant to take an open shot, choosing to pass without ever looking at the basket.
Senior forward Jimmy Butler, the lone bright spot, finished with 23 points Tuesday. He said part of passing up open shots comes from the team’s unselfishness.
“I think we are really unselfish players, so we’re always trying to get each other involved,” Butler said. “But I think sometimes the unselfish play is to make one for yourself.”
Marquette fans should be happy to see the aggressive Butler who showed up Tuesday night, rather than the timid Butler who attempted just six shots in a road loss to Georgetown on Sunday. But the rest of the offense went stagnant, shooting just 33 percent without his contributions.