MILWAUKEE — Three days after letting a 13-point lead slip away in the final 12 minutes of its Big East opener at DePaul, Marquette found itself in a similar position Saturday.
On Wednesday, the Golden Eagles led by 13 immediately following the under-12 minute media timeout. Marquette’s advantage was 12 at the nearly the same spot against Providence.
Instead of folding when the Friars made their run, the Golden Eagles made the necessary plays to hold on for a big 75-66 victory over Providence at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"We challenged our older guys to set the tone," Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "The fact of the matter is outside of Derrick (Wilson) and Juan (Anderson) no one else on our team has competed in the Big East conference.
"They need to set the tone as these other guys are learning and growing and gaining experience. The guys who do have experience need to show up and set a great environment for these other guys who are gaining experience."
After combining for just 13 points on 4 of 12 shooting in the second half against DePaul, Marquette’s three seniors scored 25 of the Golden Eagles’ 42 second-half points Saturday. Matt Carlino, Juan Anderson and Derrick Wilson combined to go 6 for 11 from the field and 3 of 4 from distance after halftime.
"Derrick, Matt and I took it upon ourselves to stay sharp, stay on our teammates and talk to not have any letdowns and remain focused," Anderson said.
Anderson hit a free throw to put Marquette up 13 points on DePaul with 11:46 to play and scored to give the Golden Eagles a 58-46 lead with 9:56 remaining Saturday.
But LaDontae Henton wouldn’t let Providence fall in Milwaukee for the ninth consecutive time without a fight. The Big East’s leading scorer entering Saturday at 21.1 points per game hit consecutive 3-pointers to quickly slash Marquette’s lead in half.
The collapse at DePaul began to creep into the minds of the 15,134 at the Bradley Center when the Friars pulled to within 63-59 on a Kris Dunn jumper with 2:38 to play.
After Carson Desrosiers blocked a Luke Fischer shot out of bounds, Wilson caught the Providence defense napping by hitting Carlino under the basket. The Friars were forced to foul, and the senior transfer hit both free throws to stop the Providence spurt.
Providence attempted to get back into the game by pressing Marquette, a fairly intelligent strategy considering how the Golden Eagles coughed the ball up late against the Blue Demons. But Marquette handled the pressure with ease, setting up Fischer for multiple uncontested dunks in the final minute to seal the game.
"I think I would give the credit to the leaders," Wojciechowski said. "They recognized the game situation. As good as their stats are — Juan had 18 points and Derrick had eight, six and five — the thing that I love from the three seniors, Matt, Juan and Derrick, are in huddles how they communicated to the team. When teams make a run, teams are always going to make runs. They had great voices both on the court and in huddles and I think they deserve a lot of credit."
It was fair to question the direction of Marquette’s season following its loss at DePaul. While the Golden Eagles aren’t carrying the same expectations as they have in years past, letting a 13-point second-half lead slip away against a team projected to finish last in the conference is a tough pill to swallow.
While one win doesn’t drastically change things for Marquette at the time being, beating a Providence team expected to compete for an NCAA tournament berth is significant.
"It feels good, especially after losing at DePaul when we could have easily won that game," Anderson said. "I’ve played in the Big East for three years now, and I know how big these games are, especially when you are at home.
"You have to win every game at home if you want to have a chance at even being in the top five of the Big East. It is a great conference. I was really excited about the win. It’s not the national championship, but every win to me is big."
Marquette’s victory over Providence is only meaningful if it follows it up with a strong performance at No. 25 Georgetown on Tuesday. The Hoyas picked up their first Big East victory Saturday with a convincing home win over Creighton.
Only two Big East teams are 2-0 following play Saturday, while six schools sit at 1-1.
"The main thing I’m happy about today is our guys grew up some and put a little hair on our chest," Wojciechowski said. "This is a league that can be brutal, so to get a win like this against an outstanding team that’s very well coached is something I’m really pleased for our guys (about)."
"We have to use this as a springboard and we have to learn why we were able to win this game and we have to try to develop the habits now so we can take that on the road, which is obviously going to be very difficult against an outstanding Georgetown team."
Cohen shines: After not seeing the floor against DePaul, Marquette freshman forward Sandy Cohen III provided a much-needed spark Saturday.
Cohen checked in following the first media timeout of the game and immediately made his presence felt, hitting a 3-pointer on each of the first two offensive possessions he was in for.
He scored 12 points in seven minutes of first-half action before he had to sit with two fouls with 4:03 left in the half. Cohen played five minutes in the second half but didn’t take a shot.
"Sandy was terrific," Wojciechowski said. "Without those 12 points in the first half we wouldn’t win the ballgame. I told Sandy I made a mistake in Chicago by not playing him. I should have played him. He’s a good player and he’s only going to get better. Today showed the type of impact he can have on our team. Hopefully he’ll do that more and more."
Unsung hero: A glance at the final box score would make it seem as if junior forward Steve Taylor Jr. didn’t have much of an impact on Marquette’s victory.
But Taylor’s only basket of the game was a big one.
With the Golden Eagles struggling to score and Providence on a 6-0 run to cut Marquette’s lead to 58-52, Taylor went over Friars forward Tyler Harris to tip a Duane Wilson miss to himself. He then gathered himself before going back up for the layup.
Taylor finished with two points and four rebounds in 11 minutes in his first game coming off the bench, as Wojciechowski inserted Fischer into the starting lineup for the first time this season.
"The thing with that is a lot of people who don’t really understand basketball won’t understand what Steve did," Anderson said. "We had a lapse at one point and he got an offensive rebound and scored. That was a big play for us because that’s a spark, especially when we were struggling to score.
"The average spectator won’t understand that play but it is big time for people who really understand basketball. That changed the momentum of the game. It is very mature on his part. He could have easily went into a funk and said, ‘I’m not starting any more,’ and been upset about it. But he didn’t. I give props to him."