Marquette went into Wednesday night winners of 12 of its last 13 games, including six wins overcoming double-digit deficits. It seemed as though it was a matter of time before a large comeback would not be in the cards for the Golden Eagles.
That time was last night. Marquette (24-6, 13-3 Big East) ran into a Cincinnati (21-9, 11-6 Big East) team on senior night that was trying to cement its NCAA Tournament bid. The Golden Eagles led by a basket at the first media timeout, but the Bearcats dominated from that point on in a 72-61 victory.
Cincinnati ended the first half on a 35-17 run, anchored by a pair of role players. Junior guard Jaquon Parker hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half en route to a career-high 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting and seven rebounds. Parker picked up the slack from senior forward Yancy Gates, who played just four minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul just 3:44 into the first half.
Gates finished with just six points, half as many as his season average, but ripped down 13 rebounds, including five on the offensive end in just 23 total minutes.
Sophomore forward Justin Jackson made his impact on the defensive end after Gates had to sit on the bench in the first half with his two fouls. Jackson rejected a career-high seven blocks and affected numerous others, while also chipping in six points and four rebounds in just 13 minutes.
The Golden Eagles struggled all night against a zone defense that Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin changed out of in a Marquette stomping of the Bearcats in Milwaukee on Feb 11.
“I was going to stay in it tonight no matter what happened,” Cronin said of his decision to play zone for 40 minutes. “The fans may have been booing, but I wasn’t coming out of it.”
Senior forward Jae Crowder and senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom scored a combined 35 points on 11-for-27 (40.7 percent) shooting, but the rest of the Golden Eagles simply did not pick up the slack. The rest of the Marquette squad scored 26 points and shot a combined 10-of-35 (28.6 percent) from the floor.
“Our defense is tied to our offense and if we’re taking the ball out of the net, we’re not going to be near as good,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “Our offensive efficiency is tied to our defensive efficiency and we were really poor in that regard.”
Johnson-Odom cited the fact that team wasn’t happy with the effort it gave on offense or defense.
“We weren’t very aggressive on either side of the court,” Johnson Odom said. “Everybody’s a little frustrated.”
The biggest difference between the two matchups was Cincinnati’s seven turnovers that did not allow Marquette to get easy buckets. The Bearcats turned the ball over 14 times in the teams first meeting.
“We took care of the ball,” Cronin said. “You have to take care of the basketball against Marquette. They are the fastest team in the country, but you didn’t see that tonight because of our zone. We tried to make them take their time.”
Marquette will need to force turnovers against a Georgetown team that is one of best at protecting the basketball on senior day Saturday at the Bradley Center. The Hoyas turn the ball over just 12.6 times per game, good for just ninth in the Big East, but had just 11 turnovers in a 59-41 win over Notre Dame on Monday.