MILWAUKEE – Too much of the time Saturday, Marquette got caught trying to hit a home run when a simple single would have sufficed.
Facing a clearly inferior opponent in its final nonconference tune-up of the season, Marquette turned the ball over a season-high 20 times and was tied with North Carolina Central with 6:27 to go.
Despite committing the second-most turnovers in the Buzz Williams era, the Golden Eagles found a way to survive on talent alone and won, 75-66, but they face a lot of clean up before Connecticut visits Tuesday for the Big East opener.
“Too much just trying to be a hero,” Williams said. “Three or four of them were literally, ‘I can’t pass and you can’t catch.’ I would say five or six of them were, ‘I don’t have an angle to make the pass, and you are trying to make something happen that’s not there or you are trying to attack on the first side and the zone hasn’t shifted or you haven’t made them rotate defensively.'”
The only other time Marquette turned it over at least 20 times under Williams was in last season’s Big East Tournament loss to Louisville, when the Golden Eagles had 26 turnovers. The last time Marquette had a minimum of 20 turnovers in a win was back in 2007 against Savannah State.
The first 14 possessions set the bizarre tone, as Marquette started the game a perfect 8 for 8 from the field but turned the ball over on its other six possessions to start the game. The Golden Eagles finished the game shooting 60 percent from the field but couldn’t shake the Eagles until late.
Marquette scored the first four points of the second half to grow its lead to 47-37, but six turnovers in the next nine minutes let North Carolina Central rattle off a 16-7 run to make it a one-point game.
“We just didn’t execute,” Marquette forward Juan Anderson said. “We just tried to force plays. We have to let it be natural and let the game came to us. A few times we tried to force it and we were shaky with the ball.
“Having 20 turnovers any game is big. We have to take care of the ball regardless of who it is against. In the second half, we tried to force a few things.”
When Marquette finally cleaned up its act, it put the Eagles away. After Todd Mayo’s putback layup broke a 60-60 tie with 5:21 left, Marquette didn’t turn the ball over the rest of the way.
Sure, the Golden Eagles won, but the script was all too familiar. Marquette has too often let a less-talented team hang around. The Golden Eagles have gotten away with it for the most part because they flipped the switch in time, but they were burned by UW-Green Bay.
Some of the sluggishness could have been expected. Marquette had three days off following its last game one week ago and returned to practice Wednesday after a holiday break. What wasn’t expected was letting a team picked to finish seventh in the MEAC remain close until the final minutes.
“We got away from playing five on five for a bit,” Marquette guard Vander Blue said of the impact of the break. “We ran a lot to get back in shape. We just have to get back in a rhythm again. We took a week off from playing five on five, and that’s a lot different than working out in your high school gym. It was definitely good for us to get some competition and get up and down and have to fight for the win.”
Maybe fighting for a win will be a positive down the road, but with Connecticut, Georgetown and Pittsburgh on the horizon, Marquette’s level of play has to ratchet up a few notches.
“If you are just trying to trade baskets and you are turning the ball over at a 37 percent clip, it’s hard to win in any league,” Williams said. “I thought offensively when we didn’t turn it over, it was arguably the best we’ve been.
“We have to have better discipline in our energy, better discipline in the things we work on every day, and we have to execute those things.”