Marquette found its toughness too late in loss to Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. — Close, but not good enough. It’s becoming the theme to Marquette’s season in nonconference play.

Despite trailing for the vast majority of Saturday’s game at the Kohl Center, Marquette trailed by just three points with 2:08 to play. But not doing the little things cost the Golden Eagles a chance at a big win against their in-state rival.

Facing an undefeated Wisconsin team in a building in which it rarely loses in, Marquette needed to outhustle, outrebound and just be the tougher team. Those things caught up to the Golden Eagles in the end, as the No. 8 Badgers hit a huge 3-pointer to push the lead back to six and hung on from there for a 70-64 win.

“One stop,” Marquette forward Jamil Wilson said. “I said it as soon as I got in the shower, we were one stop away.

“If we had got one stop or stopped one offensive rebound, got an extra defensive rebound, a steal, something. One stop and this game would have been ours.”

All the talk from Wisconsin leading up to Saturday’s game was how Marquette had won the last two games in the rivalry because of its toughness and flat will to win. It’s a philosophy Buzz Williams has based his program off of and a major reason why the school has been so successful.

The Badgers challenged themselves to be tougher than the Golden Eagles on Saturday and they were. Every loose ball went to Wisconsin, many of them leading to big plays that ultimately decided the game.

“The definitely were the toughest team today,” Williams said. “There are certain years you can probably throw out, but you can look at any rivalry and it’s always going to be a possession game. Is it stylistically how they play or how we play? That stuff kind of balances itself out. I think it always comes down to loose balls and first to the floor and 50-50 balls, offensive putbacks, and-1’s.”

There were obvious flaws to Marquette’s performance, like its guards combining for just three points, but the Golden Eagles shot 48.5 percent in the second half and actually shot a higher percentage than Wisconsin.

Unlike Ohio State, this game didn’t come down to Marquette not making shots. Shooting 43.1 percent against a good defensive team is not bad. Williams felt that should have been good enough. But in the end it wasn’t because of the lack of hustle plays, something Marquette usually controls.

The team this Marquette squad needs to become showed up when it fell behind 55-44 with 5:50 to play. All of a sudden the Golden Eagles became aggressive, almost playing like they had nothing to lose.

“Guys kind of sensed the game was getting out of hand and found another gear,” Jamil Wilson said. “Unfortunately it was too late. We have to learn how to keep that switch on and quit flicking with it. Hopefully we can get more consistent at turning the light on.”

Nobody embodies that more than Jamil Wilson, who took the game over late to bring Marquette back. But now he has to do it consistently.

“I just think that great players bust the door, right?” Williams said. “Aaron Rodgers is busting the door. Brett Favre? He’s busting the door. He’s not waiting on somebody to open it. That’s your door, make it your door. That’s what great players do.

“Collectively we need to have more of an emotion toward, ‘That’s your door.’ We have to open it. That’s why they are 94-7 in November and December. They are not beating themselves. You have to beat them. The last two years, what was the difference? You could say it was our will. Today it was their will. It wasn’t tactical.”

One of the highlights of Williams’ pregame speech was reminding his players the game starts when the ball is shot.

Marquette came in as one of the nation’s best rebounding and offensive rebounding teams, while Wisconsin has struggled on the glass.

The final box shows the Golden Eagles outrebounded the Badgers, 34-32, but most of Marquette’s rebounds and a good chunk of its 11 offensive rebounds came during the late surge. Wisconsin grabbed 13 offensive rebounds Saturday, something Marquette couldn’t allow to happen.

“It’s very important because they don’t beat themselves,” Jamil Wilson said. “The times where you can take advantage of your athleticism and things like that, you need to do so as much as you can. Especially loose balls on the floor, you have to be first on the floor. You have to get them on the glass. When little things like that present themselves you have to take advantage of that.”

Sitting at 5-4 for the first time since the 2000-01 season and for just the fourth time since 1990. The schedule has been tough, sure, but Marquette needs at least one marquee nonconference win to help its NCAA tournament resume.

Of the three previous Marquette teams to start the year 5-4 since 1990, none have made the tournament.

The Golden Eagles have a long way to go, another chance at a big non-conference win against New Mexico and a Big East schedule in front of them, but they must get back to what the foundation of their program is built on: toughness and doing the little things.

“Just a long way to go, that’s all it is,” Jamil Wilson said. “It’s not really a rebuilding process, we’re still trying to figure things out as a team. We’re good, we’re fine. Nobody likes to lose on this team, but that’s the thing. You can’t be winners all the time.

“That’s the Marquette way. You are either going to win by a couple or lose by a couple. You aren’t going to just smash a team out of the water unless you are hitting on all cylinders. We just have to get back to work and keep our heads up.”

Mayo sits out: Marquette junior guard Todd Mayo was suspended for Saturday’s game against Wisconsin for a violation of team rules.

Williams said postgame that the decision to suspend Mayo was his and it was only a one-game suspension. When asked what impact playing without his third-leading scorer had on the loss, Williams said “None.”

But Mayo certainly would have helped the Golden Eagles, as he’s one of the few playmakers in the backcourt.

“He can help us in any game,” Jamil Wilson said. “Todd is another perimeter threat, someone other teams have to respect because of his ability to drive and shoot the ball. His presence would have helped, but we can’t pin it all on Todd. We’re a team. Other guys have to step up.”

Starting guards Jake Thomas and Derrick Wilson combined for three points and two assists and went 1-of-6 from the field, while reserve guards John Dawson and Jajuan Johnson didn’t score or attempt a shot in a combined 12 minutes.

“It’s not good, is it?” Williams said. “I would say that they said Jake could shoot. Derrick, they said couldn’t shoot by how they guarded him, and he made one basket. That’s not good.”

Taylor out: The Golden Eagles were without another contributor Saturday, as sophomore forward Steve Taylor Jr. was unavailable as he still battles pain from offseason surgery on his right knee.

Taylor had surgery to remove a benign growth from his right knee in early May, causing him to miss four months of workouts. He has played in Marquette’s first eight games, but hasn’t made much of an impact.

He didn’t practice at all this past week and could be looking at an extended period of time on the shelf. That would be a big blow, as Marquette could use a player with Taylor’s talent and playmaking ability.

“He’s just struggling,” Williams said. “They did a test on him earlier this week, basically they tested the strength of the quad. That’s the muscle above where he had the surgery and it’s just wobbly. I think that’s effected his esteem because he knows he’s not 100 percent.

“We need him to be healthy. He hasn’t been healthy.”

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter