Against New Hampshire Thursday Marquette played poorly enough to lose and won. Monday against a much more talented Arizona State team, the Golden Eagles played well enough to win and lost.
Todd Mayo’s sound perimeter defense was sorely missed as Marquette surrendered 10 three-pointers to the Sun Devils’ red-hot shooters.
Despite the heartbreaking 79-77 loss, there were plenty of positives to go around, particularly for the developing Marquette backcourt.
Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas had breakout performances, though each of their potentially game-winning shots wouldn’t go in the final minute of play.
Thomas hit five three-pointers to finish with 16 points, but his off-balance attempt with around seven seconds remaining rimmed out.
After scoring one field goal in his first four games, Wilson knocked down five against the Sun Devils to finish with 14 points. His final attempt was stuffed by Jordan Bachynski as the final seconds ticked away.
Bachynski was a problem in the paint for Marquette all night, recording a double-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven huge blocks.
The 7-foot-2 center’s imposing presence kept the Marquette frontcourt from establishing itself early in the contest. Jamil Wilson gave Marquette a pulse with eight first-half points including some key contested buckets in the first 10 minutes.
Freshman guard JaJuan Johnson was a sparkplug off the bench with nine very loud points, including a great steal and dunk that cut the Sun Devil lead to 50-48 early in the second half.
When the Golden Eagle guards stepped up, Davante Gardner came alive. Gardner was limited to a rare three-pointer and a mid-range jumper in the first half, but was able to get better penetration in the second half with four tough buckets under the basket.
Overall, however, the Golden Eagles were outscored 34-30 in the paint despite out-rebounding Arizona State 39-32.
Marquette’s ball movement dramatically improved as the Golden Eagles kept up in a furiously paced final 20 minutes. Coach Buzz Williams likes to talk about his team’s turnover ratio, and Marquette’s four total giveaways in a tough road environment made for another positive takeaway.
The Golden Eagles were more efficient with the basketball as well, picking up 18 assists as a team and knocking down 40.6 percent of their field goals for the game. They even displayed flashes of trademark Marquette toughness, scoring 20 second-chance points.
The end result left an open-ended question of who will take the final shot this season. With Mayo sidelined, the two attempts Marquette offered were questionable at best.
But if the Golden Eagles’ goal in nonconference play is to work out the kinks before the Big East schedule begins, Monday’s performance was more encouraging than unsatisfactory.