Golden Eagles squeak out win against NJIT

Photo by Cassie Rogala/
Photo by Cassie Rogala/[email protected]

Marquette barley escaped catastrophe with a narrow 62-57 win over NJIT Monday night.

It was a tale of two halves, as the Golden Eagles were able to make a historically bad Highlanders team look like a tournament contender. The Highlanders, who are 0-22 against major conference opponents, shot 61.1 percent from the field in the first half. Coming into the game NJIT was ranked 252nd in the nation in points per game and 276th in shooting percentage. The Golden Eagles managed to keep pace though, and headed into halftime down two, despite shooting 34.5 percent from the field.

Coach Steve Wojciechowski said he liked the shots the Golden Eagles were taking throughout the game.

“We didn’t settle,” Wojciechowski said. “These were the best shots we’ve taken, even if we didn’t make the quality shots we got.”

In the second half, the Highlanders came crashing down to earth, shooting 8-for-33, or 24.2 percent. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles shot 8-for-22, or a 36.4 shooting percentage. Anderson led the Golden Eagles with 20 points and nine rebounds, while redshirt freshman Duane Wilson followed closely behind with 18 points.

Wilson said the team wasn’t discouraged by the first half shooting and fought to get the second half points.

“We missed a lot of bunnies, but we kept on getting offensive rebounds and attacking the paint and getting paint touches,” Wilson said.

Wojciechowski said he was happy with the team’s defensive effort against NJIT, especially in the second half.

“I think overall it was out best defensive effort,” Wojciechowski said. “I thought our defense, especially in the second half, was the key, as well as getting the ball in really good positions in the offensive end.”

Down the stretch, free throws became a difference maker for the Golden Eagles. In the first half, the team shot 6-of-11 from the charity stripe. In the second half, the Golden Eagles started the half shooting 5-for-6 and finished the half 17-for-23, including two big makes from Wilson to ice the game in the closing seconds. Wilson finished the night shooting 9-for-10 from the free-throw line, and Anderson was 8-for-13.

Wojciechowski said free throws helped the Golden Eagles maintain its lead.

“When we get the ball by the basket, we have to come up with points or free throws or both,” Wojciechowski said.

Heading into the game, NJIT averaged 10 more rebounds a game than the Golden Eagles, and Marquette was ranked dead last nationally in the category. The Golden Eagles just barely lost the battle on the glass, 37-36. Both had 17 offensive rebounds, while the Highlanders had 20 defensive to Marquette’s 19. NJIT turned those offensive rebounds into 14 points, while the Golden Eagles only managed 11.

Wojciechowski would have liked to see the Golden Eagles finish more, but was happy with the results he got.

“The fact is we got the ball by the basket,” Wojciechowski said. “That’s a step. The next step is finishing better and completing plays.”

Neither team was able to pull away from the other, as each team’s largest lead was only six points. NJIT led by six with 3:51 left in the first after an 8-0 run. The Golden Eagles chipped away and eventually took the lead for good in the second half, and managed a six point lead with 6:41 left in the game. The difference was Marquette’s ability to get points from turnovers, as the Golden Eagles notched 21 off of 17 Highlander miscues. Conversely, NJIT only scored 13 points off of 12 Marquette turnovers.

The win comes just two days after the Golden Eagles lost 97-89 to the Omaha Mavericks. Omaha is in its fourth season as a Division I program, and it was the first win against a major program. NJIT holds the NCAA Division I losing record when the Highlanders lost 51 straight games, and had its first winning season in 2012-13.

Wojciechowski said despite the tough game, it was important to get a win against NJIT.

“We all are a work in progress,” Wojciechowski said. “I was really proud that we hung tough and we made winning plays.”

Marquette will travel to Orlando for the Orlando Classic, where the team will play three games in three days. Its first opponent is Georgia Tech Thanksgiving night.

“I haven’t thought much about Orlando,” Wojciechowski said. “I don’t have time to think that far ahead. We had to beat NJIT. We’ll give them as much rest as we can, we’ll prepare them emotionally and mentally, but we’re going to have to learn to play through fatigue.”