MILWAUKEE (AP) — Stuck in another early rut, No. 18 Marquette used traps, turnovers and a high-octane transition game to turn up the heat on Cincinnati.
That was enough to melt the Bearcats.
Marquette forced Cincinnati into turnovers on four of five possessions during a 10-0 run to take the lead in the first half, then cruised to a 95-78 victory on Saturday.
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Marquette scored 25 points off 14 Cincinnati turnovers and had a 31-10 edge in fast-break points.
“Our defense does create offense for us when we’re flowing pretty good,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “We can’t win any other way.”
Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder scored 23 points each. Jamil Wilson added 15 points for the Golden Eagles (21-5, 10-3 Big East), who have won nine of their last 10 games.
“We want to get out in transition,” Johnson-Odom said. “That’s something we do very well. When we’re able to get stops, it kind of helps us on the defensive end.”
JaQuon Parker and Dion Dixon scored 15 points each for the Bearcats (17-8, 7-5), who had won two straight coming into Saturday’s game. It was by far the most points the defense-minded Bearcats have given up all season. Cincinnati allowed 78 points in a win over Villanova on Jan. 14.
“We take a lot of pride in trying to play defense,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. “We didn’t do a very good job of it today.”
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati’s leading scorer, was held to a season-low seven points and spent the late stages of the game on the bench.
Cronin made it clear that he wasn’t happy with his team’s preparation.
“I don’t know what they do at night,” Cronin said. “I don’t know what they’ve been doing for the last 48 hours as we’ve been preparing for them. But like I said, we weren’t ready to play. We weren’t ready for what was going to happen.”
Marquette once again played without power forward Davante Gardner, who has missed four straight games since spraining his left knee at Villanova on Jan. 28. The Golden Eagles already were at a size disadvantage without center Chris Otule, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Dixon helped get Cincinnati off to a hot start, scoring on three straight possessions to give the Bearcats a 16-4 lead less than five minutes into the game.
The Golden Eagles are used to recovering from such lulls by now, but it doesn’t mean they like it.
“It’s an uphill battle the rest of the way,” Williams said. “Whatever margin we had — I don’t think we had any against a team that’s as good as Cincinnati — but whatever margin there was because we were playing at home, we just lost it in four and a half minutes.”
Marquette rallied to cut the lead to 24-17 — then took control with the 10-0 surge.
Williams had the Golden Eagles press and trap in the backcourt just before the run, and it seemed to shake the Bearcats up.
“As much as it shook them, it kind of revitalized us,” Williams said. “We’re not really trying to create turnovers in the backcourt, as much as we are trying to keep their team as high and wide on the floor as possible because we’re so deficient internally.”
Bearcats guard Cashmere Wright said they knew Marquette would make a comeback.
“We got lackadaisical and started giving them the ball,” Wright said. “Then they got on a run and start getting their confidence. From there it just went downhill.”
Trailing by 12 at the half, Cincinnati cut the lead to nine when Parker scored inside with 17:23 left.
But Crowder scored inside for the Golden Eagles, Parker was called for an offensive foul and Johnson-Odom hit a 3-pointer to give Marquette a 57-43 lead — forcing Cincinnati to call timeout with 16:30 left and the game beginning to slip away.
The Bearcats responded with a quick 8-2 run, cutting the lead to eight.
But Johnson-Odom was fouled on a drive to the basket, put up a shot and turned around to watch the ball linger on the rim, pumping his fist as it dropped in. Johnson-Odom missed the free throw, but Wilson was fouled on the rebound and hit one of two free throws for a 62-51 lead.
Marquette remained in control, and Wilson’s powerful dunk gave the Golden Eagles a 70-55 lead with 9:56 left. Cronin called a timeout, whipping his sport coat to the floor in frustration.
The Bearcats came into Saturday’s game having held 19 of their 24 opponents under 70 points — and 14 opponents to 60 or fewer.
“We have talent,” Cronin said. “But sometimes we want things to be easier, on the easier side, and that’s not reality.”