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MU-Quinnipiac Takeaways: Golden Eagles come out flat

Photo by Brian Georgeson

Photo by Brian Georgeson

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Final Score: Quinnipiac 68, Marquette 65

Team Leaders: 

Points: Erika Davenport (21)

Rebounds: Davenport (8)

Assists: Amani Wilborn (8)

Act Like You’ve Been There Before

Marquette’s season-long evolution from single-minded plucky upstarts to well-balanced BIG EAST conference champions came to a thrilling, tense and ultimately sour close after a brutally close 68-65 loss to No. 12 seed Quinnipiac University.

Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, they looked much more like the one-dimensional team that started the season than the more mature and adaptive group that finished it.

The Quinnipiac Bobcats won their first NCAA tournament game in program history, but the team was making their third appearance in the past five years. Marquette, meanwhile, graced the tournament for the first time since 2011, and, outside of senior center McKayla Yentz, is a ship captained completely by sophomores.

Suffice to say, one team acted like they had been there before while another team did not.

“I don’t really consider this group sophomores in terms of the amount of minutes that they’ve logged,” head coach Carolyn Kieger said in a press conference on Friday. And she shouldn’t. The group has come a long way from the shaky squad that buckled anytime an opponent mucked up the pace and slowed the run-and-gun offense to a crawl. By the time the BIG EAST tournament rolled around, Marquette was comfortable scoring in a variety of ways.

This afternoon, however, the Golden Eagles displayed their relative youth and inexperience, reverting back to the same bad habits that mired them in early season losses to teams like Green Bay and Creighton. Quinnipiac got off to a hot start, and quickly established its dominance. The Bobcats’ lead stretch out to 19 at one point, and through most of the game sat at a comfortable double-digit advantage.

With Quinnipiac’s 25th ranked defense slowing the game down in the first half, Marquette struggled to push the pace and break a pesky press. When they tried, the ball would often bounce off their own feet or fly past their own teammates and end up in Bobcat hands.

The defensive rebounds and Quinnipiac turnovers that would normally result in good looks in fast break were instead pulled back to regroup and calm down.

It wasn’t Marquette basketball, and it didn’t work.

The highlight shot that wasn’t

Erika Davenport dumped in a layup with six seconds left to pull the score to 67-65.

Down a pair and without the ball, Marquette resorted to the tried-and-true tournament team’s last stand tactic — foul quickly, hope for a missed free throw, and get an attempt at the go-ahead buzzer beating triple.

And it almost worked.

An Allazia Blockton intentional foul sent Bobcat Paula Strautmane to the line. The sophomore forward knocked down her first attempt, then missed the second. Davenport scooped up the rebound and quickly called timeout.

Marquette had one last chance to tie the game with a three and an inbounding the ball on its own side of the court.

An out-of-timeout play sent Natisha Hiedeman flying off a screen to the wing of the 3-point line. She caught the inbound, stuttered between a pair of defenders, and released her shot.

“That play that we drew up, we run it all the time,” Kieger said.

For a brief, fleeting moment the staple inbound play was sending the game to overtime with the pendulum of momentum swinging firmly in Marquette’s favor.

The shot looked dead center. The ball travelled halfway through the hoop before hopping out and ending the game.

“It just wasn’t supposed to go in, I guess,” Hiedeman said.

Erika Davenport, Offensive Hub

Davenport averaged 12.9 points per game this season, the third most on the team, and quickly established herself as an important cog in Kieger’s offense.

Today, she poured in a game-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and knocked down seven of her nine free throw attempts. The Golden Eagles went to their premier post-scorer early and often, relying on her ability to produce in the half-court as the fast break game went stale.

“They do a great job of packing the paint, and they front a lot. We knew Erika was going to be able to use her athleticism and her strength down low,” Kieger said. “I think sometimes we forced it to her in the first half, and i think that was kind of jitters and what not. But I give a lot of credit to Erika’s fight, and they way she attacks that rebound she’s just really relentless and really hard to guard.”

Kieger’s right. Despite Davenport’s herculean effort to carry the offense against a surging Quinnipiac in the first half, she was unfortunately forced into a role that doesn’t quite fit her game or Marquette’s.

As a single piece of the puzzle, Davenport’s post scoring ability provides dimension to Marquette’s otherwise guard-heavy dribble-drive and fast-break game. She’s a great complimentary scorer who gets a lot off of solid early positioning and a quick first step.

Forced into a primary scoring role, however, and the defense begins to collapse and Marquette’s offense really slows down.

That Davenport was able to carry the burden through the first half is great, but it’s more emblematic of a Marquette team that got swept up in the moment and struggled to find their identity.

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