Wednesday’s contest against St. John’s was Marquette’s annual "Al’s Night" game, which honors the man who played for the former with his brother and coached the latter to its only national title.
Before the game, a nostalgic tribute video set to dramatic music showed Al McGuire’s infectious smile, irresistible energy and famous quotes ("When I’m losing they call me nuts, when I’m winning they call me eccentric"). From the rafters, a banner bearing the image of the legendary coach hung alongside another that said "National Champs 1977."
And in 1977 — or indeed any of McGuire’s 13 seasons as head coach, which came before the NCAA had a 3-point line — perhaps Marquette would have beaten St. John’s, as it has 15 of the 25 times the teams have met. But alas, in 1986 the 3-pointer was introduced to college basketball, and on Wednesday night it played a very large part in the Golden Eagles’ 67-51 defeat to the Red Storm.
Marquette (11-18, 3-14 in the Big East) allowed St. John’s to connect on 12 of 24 3-pointers on Al McGuire Court at the Bradley Center, while making only six of its 21 attempts from long distance. It was an 18-point difference — not the game’s only difference, as Golden Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski noted afterward, but an important one, especially down the stretch, as the Red Storm (21-9, 10-7) pulled away for their fourth straight victory.
After center Luke Fischer made two free throws — a rare achievement for the 60 percent foul shooter who was only 3 of 10 from the line on Wednesday — to draw Marquette to within 42-36 with more than 12 minutes remaining, St. John’s senior D’Angelo Harrison came right back and hit a 3-pointer. Less than a minute later, Harrison hit another jumper, and, a minute after that, he struck from 3-point land again.
Suddenly, behind Harrison’s barrage, St. John’s led, 50-36. The Golden Eagles would never get closer than an eight-point deficit the rest of the way, while the Red Storm would connect on five more 3-pointers late in the game.
Afterward, St. John’s coach Steve Lavin referenced the 3-point discrepancy, especially in the second half, and said it wasn’t until his team got hot from outside that it was able to pull away.
"Tonight was a battle until the late stages," he said. "Twelve of 24 was clearly the difference. Our 3-point shooting allowed us to separate and salt away the victory."
Harrison finished the game with 21 points and made four of eight 3-point attempts. Teammate Rysheed Jordan connected on five of his nine 3-point attempts, scoring a game-high 23 points. The two guards were among four Red Storm players that were on the court for all 40 minutes Wednesday, as St. John’s used a six-man rotation for the entire game.
"Rysheed is finding his stride," Lavin said of Jordan "tickling the twine from distance" against the Golden Eagles. "Naturally, the 3-point shooting was the difference for us."
Wojciechowski and the Golden Eagles didn’t see it that way, however, saying there was more to the Golden Eagles’ sixth straight loss — another disappointing one for an injury-depleted and downtrodden team — than just 3-point shooting.
"With our personnel, it’s difficult (to defend), with guys being injured," the first-year coach said. "Overall, we held them to 39 percent shooting. They got some of those 3s late."
Marquette’s Matt Carlino agreed with that assessment.
"We played alright defense," said the senior guard, who led the Golden Eagles with 17 points and five 3-pointers of his own. "They did get hot late."
Wojciechowski’s primary issue with his team’s performance was its inability to convert at the line and finish in the lane. Marquette was just 7 of 18 from the charity stripe. In fact, the Golden Eagles’ free-throw shooting (38.9 percent) was significantly worse than the Red Storm’s 3-point shooting (50 percent).
"When we did get to the free-throw line we didn’t finish it," Wojciechowski said. "I thought we left 20 to 30 points on the table that were makeable shots."
While Fischer was effective inside (5 of 9 on field goals), he was the only player on the team that shot better than 40 percent for the game. Steve Taylor, Jr., who had six offensive rebounds, had the ball underneath the basket often, but he wasn’t able to produce much from the position, missing four of five shots and two of four free throws.
Still, Taylor’s dominance on the glass was a definite silver lining. He finished with a career-high 17 rebounds, becoming the first Golden Eagles player since Jae Crowder in 2012 to grab more than 15 boards in a game.
"Today was by far the best job he’s done in rebounding in traffic," Wojciechowski said of Taylor. "The 17 rebounds jumps out at you (on the stat sheet). I thought Steve had a chance for 15 to 17 points, too. If we can take one step further and complete the plays around the basket . . ."
It’s been a trying first season for the first-year coach Wojciechowski, the senior-transfer scoring leader Carlino and the rest of the short-handed Golden Eagles, who have struggled with injuries, especially of late.
"We don’t have many options," Wojciechowski said. "It’s a little bit of a MASH unit — making the trainer earn his paycheck with all the bumps and bruises."
Marquette concludes the regular season at home Saturday against DePaul.