Men’s basketball barely survives Fresno State due to defensive struggles

Up 19 at half, it appeared men’s basketball was on its way to an easy win against Fresno State. It didn’t turn out that way. The Golden Eagles needed clutch free throws at the end of the game to squeak out a 84-81 victory, due largely to defensive struggles in the second half.

“We let our foot off the gas pedal and it’s not very smart,” head coach Steve Wojciechowski said.

We didn’t come out in the second half with a sense of urgency at all,” center Luke Fischer said. “It was a hard lesson for us to learn … but in the end, we got the W.”

Complacency has been a trend for the Golden Eagles this season. Marquette couldn’t hold on to a 15-point lead against Pitt at the 2k Classic, and even in some of the buy games, like IUPUI, the score got a little closer than one would expect. Marquette only outscored IUPUI by five in the second half of that game.

“The good news is we’ve had big leads,” Wojciechowski said. “It’s understanding that in order to maintain the lead and build the lead you have to do the same things that got you the lead. I have to do a better job at conveying that to my team.”

The Golden Eagles struggled to stop Fresno State in the paint, where the Bulldogs scored 36 points. While Fresno State was driving inside in the second half, shooting over 20 percent better than they had in the first half, the Golden Eagles’ outside shooting evaporated. The early lead was primarily due to the team shooting 54 percent from beyond the arc, but in the second that number dipped down to 30. Then the offense looked stagnant.

“When teams try and take away your shooting, what should be open are drives,” Wojciechowski said. “We talked going into this game in anticipation of them trying to do that. This was going to be a driving game, and we had to see what the drives presented when it came to opportunities. … I don’t think we did that as well as we needed to.”

The Bulldogs shrunk the lead as far as two points twice, with 39 seconds remaining to make it 78-76 and with 24 seconds remaining, when Fresno State center Terrell Carter II hit a jumper to make it 80-78. Luckily for Wojciechowski, Marquette hit its free throws. The Golden Eagles made eight of nine from the charity stripe in the last minute, including four made shots from Sam Hauser.

Luke Fischer led the way for the Golden Eagles with a 7 for 8 night. He snagged five rebounds, including three on the offensive end that led to high percentage looks.

However, the Golden Eagles’ issues with defending big men continued. Fresno State’s three main bigs, Carter, Bryson Williams and Cullen Russo combined for 43 points. Carter was particularly effective coming off the bench in the second half, using his 6-foot-10, 290 lbs. frame to bully his way to the net. He scored 15 points in the second frame.

“Their big guys gave them a big lift,” Wojciechowski said. “That’s not something they’ve done.”

As for the Golden Eagles, Hauser had another good game, shooting 5 of 7 for a team-leading 19 points. Katin Reinhardt’s struggles continued. He shot 1 for 7 with no rebounds and one assist.

“Any time you’re struggling from the field, you’re not shooting as well as history has shown, you look at shot selection,” Wojciechowski said. “Obviously that’s something we talk about. A lot.”

Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard split point guard duties, as Traci Carter missed the game with knee soreness. Each scored 10 points.

Marquette has the rest of the week off to prepare for the annual in-state rivalry game against Wisconsin Saturday.