Marquette overcomes sluggish first half start in win over Chicago State

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Junior forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper recorded his first career double-double in Marquette men’s basketball’s 82-68 win over Chicago State Nov. 26. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Following its short break for the Thanksgiving Holiday, the Marquette men’s basketball team returned to action Saturday night at Fiserv Forum against Chicago State.

And despite its post-holiday sluggish start, the Golden Eagles defeated the Cougars by a score of 82-68.

“Tonight’s game I thought was a game of stretches,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “Thought we had stretches where we played really well and really connected and then we had other stretches where our energy wasn’t where it needed to be and our defense wasn’t as good as we want it to be. And we’re still growing up as a team, we’re still getting the understanding that it takes what what it takes on every single possession.”

Both teams traded baskets in the early minutes of the first half, with Chicago State holding a narrow lead.

“We didn’t start the game the way we wanted to start defensively,” junior forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper said. “Our energy was low and the activity that we usually have wasn’t there. We didn’t start playing at our standard.”

Smart quickly yanked three of his starters roughly four minutes into the contest as Marquette was tied 10-10 with Chicago State at the 16:15 mark.

“At different times in the game, there were multiple guys whose energy I just didn’t think was where it needed to be so I subbed them,” Smart said. “There were a lot of subs tonight and it wasn’t so much about lineup it was just about having five guys in the game that were bringing the requisite energy (needed).”

First-year guard Chase Ross made an immediate impact off the bench, as the 6-foot-4 guard hit a 3-pointer on his first touch of the night.

“Chase is a very versatile player. He’s a great blend guy from the standpoint of you can play him with anyone, he can guard a variety of positions,” Smart said. “He’s not a needy player, where you have to run a bunch of plays for him. I’m just really pleased with him.”

The Golden Eagles would then enter a sloppy stretch where they didn’t score for over four minutes. Marquette’s shooting woes ended with a layup off the glass from sophomore forward David Joplin at the 11:31 mark.

The Golden Eagles found themselves offensively following Joplin’s basket, as they went on a 13-2 extended run to take a 32-27 lead into the under-four media timeout.

Junior guard Tyler Kolek dished six assists in the first half, one being a full-court pass to first-year forward Ben Gold. Kolek finished with eight assists on the night. He now has five-or-more assists in 31 of 39 career games at Marquette.

Marquette went into halftime leading 40-29 after sophomore guard Kam Jones hit a 3-pointer in the winding seconds off the pass from first-year guard Sean Jones.

The Golden Eagles came out with a stronger defensive presence to begin the second half, holding the Cougars to a 1-for-10 start from the field.

Prosper said the message at halftime was to hold each other accountable.

“We were just like ‘that doesn’t work’, especially where we’re going and where we want to go as a team,” Prosper said. “That’s unacceptable. That kind of got us going.”

Marquette held Chicago State to 34.6% from the field in the second half on its way to its fifth victory of the season.

Prosper led Marquette on the night as he recorded his first-career double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Four of Prosper’s rebounds came on the offensive end.

“The way he that flew around, the way that he rebounded, drove the ball aggressively and got to paint, that’s, that’s the O-Max that we know can be highly effective,” Smart said.

Two additional players scored in double figures as sophomore Kam Jones and junior forward Oso Ighodaro added 15 and 13 points respectively. Ighodaro also finished with five rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals on the night.

All of the nine scholarship players who saw action scored at least two points.

Graduate student Zach Wrightsil missed his third straight game with left knee soreness.

“He’s got soreness in his knee, his knee is bothering him,” Smart said. “He’s got some consultation coming up with our medical people. Our trainers have been really working hard with him. Didn’t feel like down in Fort Myers or tonight, he was really going to be in a position to go into a game and be able to play comfortably. At the end of the day, you are always going to err to side of putting the guy in a position for him to be the most successful.”

Marquette now enters a gauntlet stretch of its season as it will face six teams in its next seven games that made the NCAA Tournament last year.

Smart’s squad (5-2) will take on No. 7 Baylor in the Big 12-Big East Challenge Tuesday at 7:30 at Fiserv Forum.

“It all starts on the defensive end and then for us, offensively, we’ve got to play with the type of pace that we do when we’re at our best,” Smart said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against literally one of the best teams in the country. They’ve got as good of a backcourt as anyone in the country, (so) certainly the margin for error goes down in those types of games.”

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.