MILWAUKEE — Marquette had two games to get itself back on track before the schedule ramped up yet again. The Golden Eagles weren’t going to figure everything out against IUPUI and Ball State, but progress had to be made.
Following up an impressive performance Saturday, Marquette continued to grow Tuesday with a convincing 91-53 rout of Ball State at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"I thought it was good in a lot of respects," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "I thought it was Chris (Otule’s) best non-conference game since he’s been here. I think Juan (Anderson) is continuing to evolve. I think Deonte (Burton) and Jajuan (Johnson), it was definitely their best overall game.
"We’ve got to continue to grow, we’ve got to continue to mature regardless of where we play, regardless of who we play. We all need to be held accountable for our growth and maturity. I thought in many respects we were able to build off of what we did Saturday."
After falling to Wisconsin on Dec. 7, Marquette was a team veering off course at 5-4. Williams spoke of a disconnect within the program and how certain things needed to be cleaned up quickly.
Sure, wins over IUPUI and Ball State were likely and expected, but the Golden Eagles couldn’t just squeak by. They not only needed convincing wins, but they needed to get better before heading into what could be a must-win game Saturday against New Mexico in Las Vegas.
"I think they are really good for our confidence," junior point guard Derrick Wilson said. "I feel like we are playing more as a team. Everybody is scoring, everybody is getting stops. You can put five different guys out there out of an 11-guy rotation and everybody is getting stops and scoring. There really are no problems.
"I think that’s good for our team. You kind of work the kinks out playing in a real game. I think we’ve been a lot more alert defensively and there’s more urgency on the court. I think that has helped us out a lot."
After five players scored in double figures Saturday, seven Golden Eagles had 10 or more points against the Cardinals. Chris Otule led the way with 14 points and six rebounds, while Jamil Wilson chipped in 13.
Freshman Deonte Burton and Jajuan Johnson scored 12 points each, but Williams was most pleased with the way the two crashed the glass. Burton entered averaging 2.1 rebounds per game, while Johnson had nine total.
They combined for 11 rebounds on Tuesday night, as Burton had six and Johnson grabbed five. Marquette needs both to be productive in order to have success moving forward.
"Those two guys have to be in the mix more," Williams said. "Not kind of a second and a half delayed on what’s next. Part of that is maturing, part of that is getting a lot of playing time. I’ve tried to manage that as best as I could.
"I told ‘JJ’ sometime in the second half, ‘In your eleventh game, it’s the first time that when I look at you, your body language projects confidence. It’s the first time that when you catch the ball offensively, you don’t immediately floor it or hurry up and try to shoot it. You are trying to execute.’"
While the Golden Eagles scored 86 on Saturday and 91 on Tuesday, Derrick Wilson feels the most progress was made on the defensive end. Marquette came into this two-game stretch already as one of the top defensive teams in the Big East, but adding a full-court pressure to the mix has added to its potency.
Marquette forced 23 Ball State turnovers Tuesday, leading to 30 points and 24 fast-break points. Easy buckets are crucial for a team that struggles to shoot on occasion.
"I think that’s the big thing for us," Derrick Wilson said. "Our defense really helped our offense. I think switching up some of our defensive schemes helped us on offense. I think we had more transition points the last two games which is good for us because we have a lot of athletic guys who can finish."
Williams decided to add pressure because of that very reason, knowing the Golden Eagles needed to generate offense off their defense.
"It changes the complexion of our team when we are able to score in transition," Williams said. "The best way we are able to score in transition is like most teams, we need to be able to get consecutive stops. The best way for us to do that is to extend the pressure.
"When we are able to extend the floor, I think it just engages us. I think that allows us to play more guys shorter periods of time, which I think is best. The longer I coach this group, I think that."
While Marquette took care of business and improved in two big wins over mid-majors, the Golden Eagles have a long way to go. The first chance to show how they’ve grown is Saturday against a Lobos team coming off a loss to in-state rival New Mexico State.
New Mexico has three losses but would still be Marquette’s best win to date. A win the Golden Eagles badly need as a resume-booster.
"We have to keep going," Williams said. "We can’t be one step forward and two steps back. We’re not dancing, we’re trying to mature. I do feel like how we’ve worked, how we’ve practiced, it has continued to get better. But I still think that we have a long way to go.
"We have to get better. We have to get better before we get to Vegas on Saturday."
Mayo injured: After already suffering a cut to his head in the first half, Marquette guard Todd Mayo took a blow to the nose on a floater that temporarily knocked him out of the game.
"I think he broke his nose," Williams said. "I’ve broke my nose, that’s why I have a big nose, but it didn’t look good."
Mayo left the game but eventually returned for a bit in the second half with a cotton plug in each nostril. He scored five points on two-of-five shooting in nine minutes.