PROVIDENCE – The Baltimore Ravens aren’t the only tough-as-nails outfit to invade Downtown Providence this weekend.
Saturday night saw a Marquette team that has built its reputation as a take-no-prisoners beast basically body slam Providence to the canvas. The punishment took its toll on the Friars, particularly in the second half when Ed Cooley’s club could not perform the simple act of putting the ball into the hoop.
At the end of the game, the Golden Eagles were the ones raising their hands in the air much like a boxer does after victory has been declared. The parting shot was a 79-72 triumph that saw nationally ranked Marquette bop PC for the seventh consecutive time.
Only a late push allowed the Friars (12-8 overall, 1-6 in the Big East) to make up ground in the field-goal percentage department to wrap up at a 36.5-percent clip. Such a frosty number tells you that despite scoring 72 points, which Cooley noted is more than enough to win games in the Big East, the Friars endured stretches in which Marquette’s vice-like grip corralled them.
From the 10-minute mark of the second half to roughly three-and-change remaining, Providence could not buy a bucket, managing just one point over the game-turning stretch. Marquette was protecting a 62-59 when the well started to run dry. A LaDontae Henton layup ended PC’s misfortune, but not in terms of what was flashing on the scoreboard with Marquette now holding a 71-62 edge.
Asked if there’s a particular moment in the game where his team’s defensive pressure reaches a boil to the point where teams become worn down, Marquette head coach Buzz Williams replied, “If you studied our practice itinerary, you would think we would be invalids offensively and real good defensively. That’s not always been the case. When we are good defensively, that typically turns into ‘We’re going to have a chance to win.’ In the final 13 minutes I thought we were as good as we have been defensively.”
How the Golden Eagles (16-4 overall, 5-2 in the Big East) held the Friars at bay for such a long stretch in the second half could be traced to the corralling efforts of Williams & Co. on Vincent Council. PC’s leading scorer managed just one of his 11 points following halftime as Marquette made it a point to take away the lone ball handling threat at Cooley’s disposal.
On three straight PC offensive possessions in the second half, Council was greeted at the top of the key by three different Golden Eagles. Jamil Wilson, author of nine straight points in the second half, was up first at 6-foot-7. Following the redshirt sophomore was 6-6 Jae Crowder, whose 3-ball put Marquette up 74-62 with under three to play. Drawing the assignment next was 6-1 Derrick Wilson.
Three possessions, three completely different looks for Council to solve and decipher.
“He commands so much attention that he’s not going to give the ball up until you make him, which is what good players do,” Williams said about guarding Council. “You can’t leave (Bryce) Cotton, so we did try to give Council different looks and change our ball-screen coverage throughout the game.
“I don’t know it was necessarily giving (Council) different looks,” Williams added, “but I also think that the guys not involved in the ball screens and help-side defense were much better down the stretch and in the second half.”
With his main power source all but shut off, Cooley watched as the Friars went into a tailspin offensively. Cotton did register a game-best 26 points but his production tailed off just as Marquette was seizing control of the game. Henton, who swished back-to-back threes in the first half to put PC up 14-6 early, finished with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Kadeem Batts collected eight points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 6:26 remaining.
“Today was about as winnable a game as we’ve had in a month, but our lack of overall toughness from a physical and mental standpoint defensively really bothered me,” Cooley said before adding, “It wasn’t so much what they did defensively. It was we didn’t do defensively.”
Darius Johnson-Odom and Crowder netted 18 points each to pace Marquette, which made 68 percent of its shots in the second half to finish at 53.7 percent.