MILWAUKEE — If Saturday afternoon’s matchup with No. 10 Ohio State — the first top-10 non-conference opponent to come to Milwaukee since 1992 — was an early test to see where it was in early November, Marquette proved it isn’t ready for the big stage quite yet.
Shooting an abysmal 18.9 percent from the field, the 17th-ranked Golden Eagles put on a futile offensive display in front of a sold-out crowd.
Marquette scored its fewest points since a 2000 loss to DePaul, as the Buckeyes snapped the longest active home winning streak in the nation at 27 games with a 52-35 win.
“In the 55 losses since I’ve been here, I’ve always given credit to our opponent for winning,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “When we get beat, I say we got beat. All of the coaching cliches like there was a lid on the basket and all that stuff, I don’t ever buy into that.
“I thought Ohio State was great. I thought their schemes and what they were doing to attack us was really good. I thought their defensive gameplan obviously caused us many problems.”
Both teams struggled to have anything go well offensively in the first half, as Ohio State shot 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) and Marquette was 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from the field.
With the game tied at 19-all at the break, Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s halftime message was to keep shooting; the ball would eventually go in. That statement rang true for the Buckeyes in the second half, but not for the Golden Eagles.
“I don’t know that if in our wildest dreams or in Marquette’s wildest dreams that we could have thought it was going to be that difficult to score,” Matta said. “Our guys were prepared to play this game. They knew the challenge, I mean you are coming into the nation’s longest home win streak. We started talking about that immediately after Tuesday night’s game in terms of what it was going to take to crack the code.
“I’d like to take credit that we had this great defensive scheme, (but) I’ve been on that end before. Buzz can’t make them for them. Those games happen and there’s times where you say ‘Fellas, just put the ball in the basket. That’s all I’m going to talk about in this timeout.'”
Sometimes basketball is a really simple game to figure out. Marquette went 4-of-24 in the second half, while Ohio State shot 57.7 percent to pull away in the game’s final 20 minutes.
The Buckeyes used a 15-3 run to take a 40-26 lead with 8:17 to play and didn’t look back from there.
“We made some shots and Marquette didn’t,” Matta said. “That was the difference. The ball started going in the basket for us. I think the key that ignited that stretch was our defense. We got some easy looks off our defense. Maybe we were a little bit closer to the basket than we were in the first half.
“I said eventually it’s got to go in the basket. Some of the shots Marquette had were point blank and rolled around. It was one of those days, I think. Fortunately we had that run which I think was the difference in the game.”
Marquette turned the ball over five times in the nine-minute stretch that changed the game, leading to easy points for Ohio State. A grind-it-out game turned into a laugher in a hurry, as the Golden Eagles could do nothing offensively to combat the run.
“We have to find a way to come out (for the second half) stronger,” Marquette point guard Derrick Wilson said. “I felt like we were flat. I have to do something to get the team going before the second half starts because we can’t come out like that. We were way too flat and they started getting transition baskets.
“I’m not sure they got a transition basket in the first half and all of a sudden they got six in a row. That can’t happen against that good of a team.”
Matta’s biggest fear coming into Saturday’s game was Marquette’s frontline of Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson. The Buckeyes ended up defending the post extremely well, limiting Gardner to just six shots, forcing Otule into four turnovers and holding Wilson to 1-of-9 shooting.
Of course Ohio State’s ability to guard the post was made a whole heck of a lot easier by the inability to make shots by Marquette’s guards. The Buckeyes ended up sagging off of Derrick Wilson, Jake Thomas and Todd Mayo, daring them to shoot.
When they did shoot, the trio combined to shoot 4-of-29, including 1-of-13 from beyond the arc. If Marquette doesn’t get better guard play than that, Gardner will find himself surrounded all season long.
“I think that was probably the best thing we did,” Matta said. “We knew collectively all five guys had to guard the post. We used our length, we used our quickness and did a good job with it.”
How did Marquette manage to shoot under 20 percent for the first time in a game since 1996?
Easy misses certainly hurt, but the Golden Eagles just became a mess on offense in the second half and allowed the Buckeyes to just pack it in defensively.
“I thought the ball was too stagnant,” Williams said. “We weren’t able to create angles off penetration, create angles off quick ball or body movement and it was more station to station passing.
“We never were able to attack. We scored zero points in transition and they shot 27 percent in the first half. 70 percent of the time it was a missed shot and we were never able to throw the ball ahead and attack.”
Nobody could have known how either team was going to play for sure, as the current versions of Marquette and Ohio State were untested prior to Saturday. The Golden Eagles had a chance to make some noise early and didn’t capitalize in their only big non-conference home game.
Their flaws were exposed, but those same flaws are correctable. All Saturday proved was that Ohio State is on a higher level than Marquette right now, three games into the season.
“I don’t feel sorry for us at all, they beat us,” Williams said. “They beat us straight up, they beat us at home in front of a sellout crowd. I apologize to all of the coaches and players and all the loyal season ticket holders that have helped create us winning 27 games in a row. We deserved to lose and I think in life you get what you deserve. You don’t earn anything, you don’t get anything.
“I’m on (his players’) team, I’m not against them. It’s not like they are over there and I’m over here and because I get to talk in the microphone I can shed the blame. It’s going directly to me. I’m going to take every issue head on, from you, from anybody else, from any fan, I can’t coach, whatever it is. That’s my responsibility.”
Williams hopes the loss provides a bit of motivation to the Golden Eagles, much like last year’s 49-47 loss at UW-Green Bay did.
“In some ways losing at Green Bay last year was liberating,” Williams said. “That liberation turned into embarrassment. Like I told them in the locker room, I hope that this expedites our growth. If it doesn’t we’ll continue to lose.
“The things we’ve been talking about over the last month were revealed today. When you play this caliber of a game in the first week of the season, I do think you learn a lot about your team. You can argue whether we were we ready for it, well, obviously we weren’t ready for it, we scored 35 points.”