Men’s basketball locking down on defense lately

Coach Buzz Williams said the hungriest dog eats first. It’s safe to say Marquette was hungry after its heart was ripped out in a 71-70 loss to No. 17 Louisville last Saturday. It was even hungrier during its best complete game of the season, a 94-64 blowout of DePaul (6-12, 0-6 Big East).

Marquette (13-6, 4-2 Big East) entered the game forcing an average of 15.4 turnovers per game overall and 12.8 in Big East play — third-best in the conference, according to Williams. So pressuring opponents into turnovers was nothing new for this squad.

But Marquette forced 22 turnovers against DePaul, which tied a season-high set against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 7.

Senior forward Jimmy Butler, who contributed four steals, said Tuesday’s turnover total went above and beyond the standard the team has for itself.

“We try to turn our opponent over at least 16 times,” Butler said. “So 22, that’s outstanding for what we try to accomplish every game. But if we can keep turning our opponents over and limiting our turnovers … then we can be really good.”

What was “awfully good” Tuesday was Marquette’s defense, according to DePaul coach Oliver Purnell.

“As always, you got to give Marquette credit because they were determined, they’re live, they’re quick; there’s no question about that,” Purnell said. “But some of those were things we ought not to do.”

DePaul’s 22 turnovers, which led to many fast break opportunities for Marquette throughout the game, led to 40 points for Marquette, something Butler said was “very important” in making the game a 30-point blowout.

Purnell agreed the points off turnovers could not be overlooked as a factor in the lopsided score.

“When you give up 40 points directly off turnovers, it makes it tough (to win),” Purnell said.

One stat Williams was not pleased with entering the DePaul game was his team’s defensive field goal percentage, which sat at 43.5 percent overall and 47.8 percent in Big East play.

Butler said the team’s goal is to get that number down to 39 percent, which is further away from the nearly 50 percent clip it allowed opponents to make shots at before Tuesday.

“You can’t beat too many teams when they’re making one out of every two baskets,” Butler said. “So Buzz is like, ‘y’all better get on to it and start guarding,’ and I think that was the main mindset that we had coming into this game.”

The Blue Demons hit 44.8 percent of its shots, 26-of-58, which is still above what Williams would like out of his team, but still below what his team had done in previous Big East games.

DePaul hit only 21.1 percent of its three-point field goals, 4-of-19, which was below the 41.3 percent that Marquette allowed its previous five Big East opponents to shoot. But Williams has bigger concerns beyond his team’s three-point field goal percentage defense.

“Of all the numbers I study, three point field goal percentage is towards the bottom of that list — not that it’s not important,” Williams said. “The reason I don’t specifically talk to our guys about, ‘man we really got to guard the three,’ is we really got to guard period.

“If you study all of our numbers, there’s a lot of good stuff. But the biggest glaring weakness is field goal percentage defense and included in that is three point field goal percentage defense.”