Marquette learned a valuable lesson this weekend in the Wooden Legacy: It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.
After compiling impressive wins over Cal State Fullerton and George Washington in Southern California, Marquette fell in the tournament finals to San Diego State Sunday, 67-59.
Senior Jamil Wilson paced the Golden Eagles with a career-high 24 points in the 86-66 win over Fullerton, while senior Davante Gardner and freshman Jajuan Johnson each pitched in 18.
Gardner netted 20 points in the 76-60 victory against George Washington. Senior Jake Thomas continued to improve with his long distance shooting, making three out of five 3-pointers and scoring 13 points.
Marquette faced a San Diego State program that qualified for the NCAA Tournament for four consecutive seasons and whose only loss of the year is a nine-point defeat to No. 6 Arizona.
Marquette’s offense heading into the tournament was a concern for players and fans alike. The Golden Eagles scored a mere 35 points in a loss to Ohio State Nov. 16 and could only muster 58 points in a home win over New Hampshire Nov. 11.
It appeared Marquette had its problems resolved, shooting 50 percent from the field and 48 percent from behind the arc in the first two games of the tournament, but pivotal droughts haunted the Golden Eagles in the finale. Marquette went seven minutes without making a field goal in the first half, leading to a 14-3 Aztecs run. The Golden Eagles went nearly four minutes at the end of the game without making a field goal, morphing a 53-52 lead into a 59-53 deficit with under a minute remaining.
“We’ve got to learn to finish games,” coach Buzz Williams told GoMarquette.com. “When you play on the road and you play a top 25 team, you have to be able to finish games. When you turn the ball over 15 times on the road, it’s hard to win.”
Freshman Deonte Burton led Marquette with 15 points and was a reliable scoring option in the second half, tallying 13 points to keep the Golden Eagles close.
“We need him to be more consistent in his work each day in practice,” Williams said. “It’s just typical freshmen. They want to figure out what to be able to do in practice, but they have to understand the value of the reps of what we’re doing in practice so we can execute that in a game. We need him to keep growing.”
Gardner, who was battling the flu, scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds after his two previous stellar performances.
Aztecs senior Xavier Thames poured in 29 points and made five of six 3-point tries as San Diego State had little difficulty navigating through Marquette’s zone defense.
The defense, however, still seems to be holding strong. Marquette allowed opponents to shoot 39.8 percent throughout the tournament, including limiting a 52 percent-shooting George Washington team to only 33 percent.
Marquette entered the game ranked 25th nationally, but after two losses to unranked teams in the past week, the Golden Eagles have since fallen out of the polls.
“The only reason there’s a number besides our name is because the polls come out on Monday,” Williams told the Associated Press. “I don’t think we have earned the right to be ranked.”
The road will not get easier for Williams and the crew, as the Golden Eagles next travel to No. 8 Wisconsin Saturday to wrap up their five-game road trip. The next home game is Dec. 14 against IUPUI, and it will be the first time in more than three weeks that Marquette will play at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.