Marquette unable to match Louisville’s offense in 81-56 loss

Five games in five days was deemed a “daunting” task by coach Buzz Williams before the Big East Championship tournament began.  But three games proved to be too daunting for Marquette (20-14) as the Golden Eagles lost to the No. 14/14 Louisville Cardinals (24-8) 81-56 Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Louisville’s ability to knock down 3-pointers at a 41.9 percent clip (13-of-31) combined with Marquette’s 20 percent (3-of-15) shooting from deep was a recipe for disaster.

Perimeter defense has been a struggle for the Golden Eagles all season, especially as of late when Seton Hall hit 57.1 percent (12-of-21) of its 3-pointers in Marquette’s regular season 85-72 loss, and continued to be so throughout the Big East tournament where teams shot 43.4 percent (36-of-83) from long range.

“If you don’t guard the ball, teams are going to shoot open shots.” coach Buzz Williams said.  “When you play major teams, they’re going to have guys who can knock down threes. We didn’t guard the ball well (Thursday).”

Williams suggested that Wednesday’s strong shooting performance from Louisville stemmed from poor on-the-ball defense by Marquette.

“We need to be able to guard the ball so that the ball handler doesn’t force help, which allows for open shots,” Williams said.

Louisville sophomore guard Mike Marra was the man behind much of Louisville’s strong performance beyond the arc.  Marra went 6-of-10 on 3-pointers and had a game-high 22 points.

“He made a huge difference,” Louisville senior guard Preston Knowles said. “We have a lot of great shooters on this team so if me and Kyle (Kuric) come out flat … it’s good to see Mike come in shooting with great confidence.”

Thursday’s game was Marquette’s third in three days, but Williams would not attribute the loss due to fatigue.

“I think that’s hard to quantify,” Williams said of the effect of fatigue on his team in the game. “I think it’s easy to justify but I think it’s harder to quantify.  I think anytime a team scores 50 percent of its points from the three point line, it’s going to be a long night.

“To play the 14th ranked team in the country, who’s had five days off, who’s been studying us live since we got here, to say the reason they beat us the way they did was because we had no legs is a soft answer. I don’t think we’ve been soft since we’ve been here, so I don’t want to leave here with a soft response.”

A bad combination for Marquette was Louisville’s hot shooting, mixed in with poor shooting from itself.  The Golden Eagles shot 29.8 percent (17-of-57) from the field and managed only seven assists.

Those seven assists weren’t enough for senior forward Jimmy Butler, who led the team with 14 points, to say that a Marquette team that averaged 14.7 entering the game went selfish.

“I think we weren’t being selfish, but we at times thought if I made that shot or he made that shot then it would start a run (of consecutive shots from that player) and things like that,” Butler said, “and we got away from looking for the open man, making that extra pass and that led to the seven assists.”

While Marquette won’t walk away with the Big East Championship title, Williams said his team can leave New York knowing it’s going to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth consecutive year.

“We landed in here not knowing what it was conclusively that we had to do (to make the NCAA Tournament),” Williams said. “The people that still thought we had work to do, whether that was true or not, I thought our guys responded (Wednesday).

“We are one of 37 teams that will have our names announced as an at-large team on Sunday.”