Points in the paint and paint touches were consistent and abundant in the opening half of Tuesday evening’s 66-59 Marquette victory over Seton Hall.
It was the No. 15 Golden Eagles’ first contest without redshirt junior center Chris Otule and sophomore forward Davante Gardner, the squad’s two tallest players. Gardner missed Tuesday’s contest with a sprained left knee and is day-to-day.
“Defensively we found ways to make up for it,” senior forward Jae Crowder said of playing without Gardner. “It’s just a little different rotations defensively than what we are used to.”
Seton Hall went into the paint immediately, knowing the Golden Eagles were shorthanded and shorter than usual. On its first offensive possession Seton Hall accumulated three offensive rebounds that culminated in a tip-in by Herb Pope.
“You got to keep those guys out of the channel. When you keep them out of the channel then it changes the game,” coach Buzz Williams said. “If they’re able to get to the channel off of the bounce or the pass then it’s hard to guard them.”
It was an unfortunate time for Marquette to be without its two tallest players, with the senior forward Pope in town.
Pope entered the contest as the Big East’s No. 13 scorer and No. 2 rebounder. He scored 10 of Seton Hall’s first 19 points and helped the Pirates accumulate 22 first half points in the paint.
“He’s good. He’s got a lot of Davante (Gardner) in him,” Williams said of Pope. “He’s meandering around, and as soon as he gets the ball you’re like, ‘Ooh, he’s really good.’ And then when he doesn’t have the ball you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And he forces rotation. Now that’s a hard combination.”
After 10 points in the first half, Pope recorded just six in the second, in part because of the defensive performance of Crowder.
Crowder compared him to former Syracuse forward Rick Jackson, who Marquettte held to 10.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in two contests last year when Jackson averaged 13.1 and 10.3 rebounds for the season.
“He’ll fight, fight, fight before he gets the ball, and once he gets the ball you really have to play defense,” Crowder said of Pope. “He’s tough. He’s a great offensive player.”
Besides limiting Pope, Marquette cut its points allowed in the paint to 16, which helped the Golden Eagles overtake the Pirates for the first time with 12:23 left in regulation.
What was technically different in the second half?
“We started switching on the ball screens,” Crowder said. “I started guarding (Pope). Every time Pope set a ball screen I switched off on him. Every time. We didn’t do that in the first half. First half we just hard-hedged on it, and that was hurting us with the counters. So coaches decided at halftime, which was a great call, to start switching on ball screens to give ourselves a chance to stop ball screens and stop penetration.”
Marquette also opted to play zone on some defensive possessions, something atypical for Williams’ teams, which altered what Seton Hall did offensively.
“Every team in the league knows that we play man-to-man, probably 75 percent of the game. We’re not a zone team,” sophomore guard Vander Blue said. “But we throw zones at people just to sort of throw them off their cue a little bit and try to make them think more on offense.”