TEMPE, Ariz. — On the heels of two poor offensive performances, the way in which No. 25 Marquette began its game on Monday night against Arizona State may have led to many Golden Eagle fans thinking the same thought: here we go again. After a Jamil Wilson jumper 12 seconds into the game Marquette missed eight straight shots, leading to the Sun Devils jumping out to a 14-3 lead just over four minutes into the game.
For the half Marquette shot 37.5% from the field, and that combined with some shoddy defense (Arizona State needs to be credited for their work offensively, as well) resulted in the Golden Eagles trailing by 11 at the intermission. In front of a hostile crowd and once again struggling to consistently find quality looks, this was a point when Marquette could have easily succumbed to the pressure.
However Marquette didn’t fold, executing much better offensively in the second half and having a chance to send the game to overtime before a Jordan Bachynski block as time expired gave Arizona State the 79-77 victory. Marquette didn’t play its best game defensively, as Arizona State shot 53.7% from the field and averaged 1.23 points per possession, but the Golden Eagles’ improved offensive performance is certainly a positive to be taken from the first stop on their trip west.
“Four turnovers and as good as we were on the offensive glass, that’s good,” head coach Buzz Williams said following the defeat. “But it’s not good if on the other end, in both halves, they shot 54%.”
Marquette finished the game with 18 assists on 28 made baskets, and their turnover percentage (6.3%) was a season-low. And from an efficiency standpoint (120.7 efficiency) this was the Golden Eagles’ best offensive performance since their win over Grambling State (140.7), and with all due respect to the Tigers producing at that rate on the road against a team the caliber of Arizona State is an entirely different matter.
Marquette shot just 40.6% from the field, and the field goal percentage likely won’t be all that high this season due to their overall lack of shooters. But the Golden Eagles can make up for that on the boards, and they did so against Arizona State by rebounding nearly 40% of their missed shots. Add in good performances from guards Jajuan Johnson (nine points off the bench), Jake Thomas (16 points, five three-pointers) and Derrick Wilson (14 points, seven assists and no turnovers), and there are positives Marquette can take from this game.
It should also be noted that Marquette was without the services of the injured Todd Mayo (ankle), and when he returns to the lineup that another experienced perimeter option for coach Williams to call upon. Expecting this group to be “lights-out” shooters wouldn’t be the best thing to do, but Marquette has the activity needed to make up for that in other areas.
The next step is to see whether or not the Golden Eagles can string together solid offensive performances, and this weekend’s Wooden Legacy should be a good litmus test in that regard. And while their defense against Arizona State was a major issue, that performance was a departure from what the Golden Eagles do on that end of the floor when comparing it to their loss to Ohio State.
Marquette didn’t defend well on Monday night but they still had a shot at leaving Tempe with a win, and for that they can thank their improvement on the offensive end.