The Marquette men’s basketball team dropped its first Big East game of the season in heart-wrenching fashion Saturday, falling on the road to Cincinnati, 71-69 in overtime. Shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick powered the Bearcats with a career-high 36 points, as Cincinnati (16-3, 4-2) held off Marquette’s late second half surge to drop the Golden Eagles to 4-1 in conference and 13-4 overall.
After playing its worst first half of the season, Marquette charged back with second half theatrics from Vander Blue and Davante Gardner. Blue, who finished with 19 points, hit three straight three-pointers to open the second half, trimming the Cincy lead to seven. But it was Gardner who made the difference for Marquette down the stretch, knocking down clutch free throws to keep his team in the game.
Gardner went just 1-for-8 from the field, but hit 13 of his 15 free throws. He made none bigger than a pair with 2.9 seconds left that forced overtime. His only field goal came with Marquette down three late in overtime. He rebounded a Todd Mayo miss, made a layup under the basket, drew a foul and proceeded to knock down the tying free throw.
“I was talking to my team at halftime about throwing me the ball so I could foul their big men out so we’d have a chance to come back and win,” Gardner said. “We just didn’t come back and win.”
“He’s a hard guy to guard,” said coach Buzz Williams of Gardner. “He’s done a really good job for us, and our team has relied on him in a lot of ways. I thought our guys, particularly Junior (Cadougan), did a better job in the second half of feeding him inside on their zone.”
Gardner’s efforts in overtime came up short, as Kilpatrick drove the lane for the game-winning layup with 4.3 seconds to go. Gardner finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The first half didn’t provide much of a standard to live up to for Marquette’s offense. The Golden Eagles scored a season-low 13 points in the opening 20 minutes and shot just 17.9 percent from the field. Moreover, they went 3-for-8 from the free throw line, were outrebounded by eight and pulled down just one more defensive rebound than Cincinnati did on the offensive end.
“We started slow,” Gardner said. “That is not our game. We usually come out fast. It was like boot camp came to session in the second half.”
The start doomed the Golden Eagles, even though they erased the 16-point deficit they faced at intermission. Williams emphasized the difficult nature of winning from behind on the road in the Big East.
“I think if we play the way we did the first 20 minutes tonight it’s going to be hard to win against a good team at their home, but I think if we play the way we did the last 20 minutes we’ll have a chance to win every game both on the road or at home,” Williams said.
With yet another close game under their belts, it appears Williams’ theory about his team playing nail-biters all the time is ringing true.
“I think everyone thinks I’m exaggerating when I say every game is going to be like this, but this is our margin, and this is who we are,” Williams said. “I don’t think that it’s going to change. I think that if we’re going to win it’s going to be a one or two possession game.”