Entering Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin, coach Buzz Williams told his team it would need to be great defensively the first 25 seconds of the shot clock and even better the last 10 seconds.
It turns out his team was “even better” the full 35 seconds.
The Golden Eagles (7-0) turned in one of their best defensive performances in Williams’ tenure, taking down the Badgers (6-2) 61-54 at the Kohl Center to remain undefeated.
Williams’ group relied on team defense and total focus for 40 minutes to stop the Badgers’ slowly developing, highly efficient offense.
Both factors were evident as Marquette held the Badgers to 26.3 percent shooting from the three-point line and forced 12 turnovers, which tied a season high for Wisconsin.
The Badgers struggled to enter their offense for much of the contest, with Marquette guards playing over on pick and rolls and pushing Wisconsin’s forwards away from the basket.
“I think that’s the key to the level of success that we can achieve as a team this year,” Williams said. “And I think in prior years we have proven that the level of success will be dependent on our defensive efficiency. It’s not one guy, two guys or the head coach. It’s the totality of everyone in the program.”
Freshman guard Derrick Wilson, who made his first career start, was one of the three main defenders on senior guard Jordan Taylor, along with freshman guard Todd Mayo and sophomore guard Vander Blue. Wilson provided constant pressure on the preseason All-American, forcing Taylor to commit a career-high five turnovers and a season-low two assists.
“Playing 94 feet really slowed him up and got him out of his rhythm,” Wilson said. “And once you’re out of your rhythm, things like that start to happen.”
Denying Taylor the ball once he passed was another strategy Mayo said contributed to the team’s defensive performance.
“We’re all good guard defenders,” Mayo said. “And as soon as (Taylor) passed it, we just tried to faceguard him and not let him get it back. I’m not saying he forced things, but I think it was hard for him. And he was getting frustrated.”
That frustration grew larger when Wilson made the defensive play of the game, taking a charge from Taylor at the 13:29 mark of the second half, sending him to the bench with his fourth foul.
With points at a premium, two key stretches of lockdown defense helped Marquette extend leads.
The Golden Eagles held Wisconsin without a field goal for 11 minutes, 8 seconds — spanning from the end of the first half into the second half — and went from down one to a 10-point advantage. The Badgers missed 10 shots, turned the ball over five times and scored just seven points, all on free throws.
Later in the second half, Wisconsin stormed back with a 13-4 run to cut Marquette’s lead to one midway through the period.
But the defense again stepped up, stopping 10 straight Badger possessions, which Williams called “absolutely critical.” The stops allowed Marquette to jump out to a 52-41 advantage.
The Golden Eagles rank 11th in the nation in scoring after Saturday’s contest, but the defensive game plan and execution Saturday proved the team can change on the fly and win in any setting.
“We’ve all been locked in on that,” Williams said of team defense. “Our staff did a perfect job in preparation. Our guys did a great job in absorbing it all, and we were able to execute, for the most part, from start to finish.”