Marquette makes strides in Orlando Classic

Photo+by+Cassie+Rogala%2Fcassandra.rogala%40marquette.edu

Photo by Cassie Rogala/[email protected]

It was hard to project which direction Marquette was heading in the early portion of coach Steve Wojciechowski’s first year at the helm.

An encouraging performance against Ohio State was cancelled out by a home loss to Omaha and an escape against lowly NJIT. However, with a third-place finish in the Orlando Classic tournament during Thanksgiving weekend, Marquette showed some signs of improvement.

The trip included some bumps and bruises, literally, as Wojciechowski barely made it out for tip off in the third-place game after accidentally putting his hand through a whiteboard in the locker room. The team exited the Sunshine State with a 2-1 record and wins over middling majors in Georgia Tech in the tournament opener and Tennessee in the third-place game. Marquette’s lone loss came against No. 20 Michigan State by 11 points.

Matt Carlino proved his scoring ability in Marquette’s 72-70 victory against the Yellow Jackets. The graduate student dropped 38 points on a blazing 8-of-18 from behind the arc. Entering Thanksgiving weekend, Carlino was inconsistent from the floor and scored only 34 points in his first four games. Thursday night was a different story, as Carlino scored more than half of his team’s points and carried Marquette to victory. Senior Juan Anderson chipped in with 12, and the next highest scorer was senior Derrick Wilson with seven points.

The Golden Eagles lost to the talented Spartans in the semifinals, but went down in valiant fashion. The Golden Eagles stuck around with Michigan State for the entire first half and trailed by one heading into the locker room. Michigan State’s talent started to impose its will in the second stanza as the Spartans extended their lead to 16 points with 11 minutes to play. But, Marquette refused to surrender and trimmed the deficit down to single digits.

Marquette showed some gutsy resolve against the Spartans, countering several runs to keep the game within striking distance. Marquette’s hard-nosed play could not overcome a 57-percent shooting performance from the Spartans. The Golden Eagles struggled to cover Michigan State’s talented shooters in their 2-3 zone and were too slow in covering the perimeter.

Duane Wilson emerged to lead the team in scoring with 15 points. Carlino was not far behind with 14, but was less efficient from the field. Steve Taylor Jr. and Deonte Burton also scored in double figures with 10 points apiece. Carlino was named to the all-tournament team.

The third place game was all about the Wilsons. Duane Wilson put up Marquette’s second 30-point outing of the tournament and Derrick Wilson scored an impressive 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field as Marquette knocked off Tennessee 67-59. Tennessee started the game with a 9-0 run in the first three minutes, but Marquette outscored the Volunteers 35-21 to close the half and never relinquished the lead.

The senior Derrick and redshirt freshman Duane scored Marquette’s final 24 points of the game. Duane flaunted some serious range, as he connected on three 3-pointers from NBA length, the last one almost stretching out to the center court logo. Derrick showed confidence in his offensive game, draining a corner three and a mid-range jumper along with two impressive layups.

The tournament was also an impressive showing for Wojciechowski and his staff. In the Georgia Tech game, Wojciechowski surprised the Yellow Jackets with the 2-3 zone. Against Tennessee, the coaches noticed Tennessee’s tendency to fall into foul trouble and emphasized an aggressive offensive mindset. It worked, as Marquette forced the Volunteers into 24 personal fouls. Each member of Tennessee’s starting five committed at least three fouls.

The highest praise came Friday night from one of the most iconic coaches in college basketball. Although Wojciechowski’s team was defeated, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo applauded Marquette’s effort.

“I loved that team tonight, I loved the way he coached them,” Izzo said in the postgame press conference. “I said (to Wojciechowski), ‘That’s how my teams used to play.’ That’s what I said to him. I said, ‘Man, I’m proud of you.’

“You know what? My first year that’s exactly how we played. Not very talented, but we went after people.”

Izzo’s comments might be the biggest takeaway from the tournament. Wojciechowski described the tournament as “fighting against human nature,” because his team played  four games in seven days with only eight players. Despite that war of attrition, Marquette identified itself as a blue-collared club that will not relent.

Marquette will have the week off to prepare for its showdown with the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers Saturday morning. If the Golden Eagles can maintain their scrappy mentality and come in with a good gameplan, they could pull off the upset.