Eagles beat Panthers at their own game

The Pittsburgh Panthers, like the city they hail from, are known for their grit and tenacity. Their physical play on the both ends of the floor results in an abundance of rebounds and sets the tone for the entire game.

Marquette learned this during a 77-71 loss at the Petersen Events Center on Jan. 28 and received a reminder during the first half of Saturday's game at the Bradley Center.

In the first meeting, Marquette was out rebounded by 15 (45-30). Even though Marquette led 44-41 after 20 minutes of play Saturday, it was trailing Pittsburgh in both total rebounds (17-14) and offensive rebounds (7-0).

But in the second half, it appeared Pittsburgh was playing a mirror image of its typical self.

"To go to their place and get beat was definitely a big game for us," said Steve Novak after Saturday's 84-82 victory. "We knew we had to play physical and get a win."

This showed on the glass in the second half. Unlike Pittsburgh, which relies on 7-foot-0 center Aaron Gray and 6-foot-9 forward Levon Kendall to corral errant shots, Marquette relied on its guards for rebounds in the second half.

"I think we had 13 defensive boards out of our guards, which was huge," said Marquette head coach Tom Crean, "because keeping their big men off the boards is such an important aspect of the game … to keep those rebounds down was the key to the game."

Dominic James, Marquette's 5-foot-11 point guard, tied 6-foot-10 forward Ousmane Barro for the team lead with five rebounds. Guard Wes Matthews grabbed as many rebounds, four, as forward Chris Grimm.

In the second half, Marquette had one more total rebound (17-16) and eight more offensive rebounds (10-2) than Pittsburgh.

"So much of it is mindset," Novak said of offensive rebounding. "I think in the first half we had no offensive boards. We know there's no way we're going to win playing like that, not going to the offensive glass hard. We came out with the mindset if we're not going to get those boards we're not going to get the game. Everybody chipped in and did a good job crashing the glass. We got our hands on balls and were active."

That was an apt description of Grimm's play. Midway through the second half Gray grabbed the ball underneath Marquette's basket only to have Grimm wrestle it away from him and force a jump ball.

That level of physical play used to be reserved exclusively for Pittsburgh. But in the second half Saturday it was the Panthers who were banged and bruised.

Seconds after Barro stuffed Carl Krauser's layup attempt, Krauser took baby steps towards his bench for the media timeout with 2:18 to play in the game, appearing to be bruised both physically and mentally. Gray, right besides Krauser, crept toward the team huddle, hands on his sides, clearly winded.

Usually the term, "playing to the level of your opponent," is used in a derogatory sense, but Saturday against Pittsburgh it was high praise and one of the keys to Marquette's victory.