Marquette is one of the Big East’s hottest teams, and facing Rutgers on Wednesday will be the easiest remaining game on the schedule.
But the Golden Eagles (22-5, 11-3 Big East) know any Big East contest can be a difficult one, which is why they must remain focused on the present as they close out their conference schedule.
Coach Buzz Williams has instilled a “just today” attitude in his team, which is focused on accomplishing daily goals before looking forward.
“We focus one day at a time,” junior guard Junior Cadougan said. “We’re built on ‘just today.’ Coach puts that in our heads to just take care of today and then we’ll worry about tomorrow. We need to focus on what we’re doing now.”
Associate head coach Tony Benford echoed those sentiments.
“You have to worry about today. You have to get better today,” Benford said. “When you come in the gym every morning, your mindset has to be ‘Let’s get better right now.’”
Rutgers will travel to Milwaukee having dropped seven of its last eight games. It is 1-9 on the road but enters the bout with Marquette with some momentum. Despite dropping a 74-64 contest to No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday, the Scarlet Knights were within two points with less than three minutes to play.
“It’s been a tough year for those guys, but they’re capable of winning,” senior forward Jae Crowder said. “If we do what we do, we’ll be fine. We can’t afford to get off to a slow start like we have done at home.”
Slow starts had plagued the Golden Eagles until Saturday. A quick transition offense in the first half helped Marquette outrun Connecticut, leading to a 79-64 win in Hartford, Conn.
That first half saw Marquette make 13 field goals. Of those baskets, the Golden Eagles used an average of 11 seconds before the shot was taken.
Cadougan, who led that charge with eight assists, said the lethal transition offense is a combination of an executed game plan and will to work harder than the opponent.
“We just have the mindset to go out and play our hardest and see what happens,” Cadougan said. “And we’ve been playing harder and are coming out with victories.”
Part of the reason for the improved transition offense is the emergence of sophomore forward Jamil Wilson.
Since sophomore forward Davante Gardner went down with a knee injury on Jan. 28, Wilson has logged over 32 minutes a night and has averaged 11.4 points and 5.6 rebounds. He has recorded a block in 11 straight games.
The Golden Eagles have 74 fast break points in their four wins since losing Gardner, who is expected to miss his sixth straight game against Rutgers.
Williams originally thought Gardner would have returned by last Saturday, but a focused squad that now goes only seven players deep has lessened the blow left by Gardner’s absence.
That focus has led to a 13-1 home record, including a perfect 7-0 record in Big East play.
Benford said home dominance was a team goal at the start of the season.
“Our goal going into the season was that we would take care of home, and we’ve done that so far,” Benford said. “So we have to continue to have that mindset and come out with great energy. That’s the whole key for us is to step on the floor with great energy.”
With hopes of a top four conference finish and subsequent double-bye in the Big East Championship Tournament, Marquette is still playing for plenty.
“We’re getting antsy,” Cadougan said. “Everyone wants to play in their conference tournament and play in the NCAAs. But we just have to be patient and finish the (regular) season strong.”