LAS VEGAS, Nev. — While the matchup between Marquette and New Mexico didn’t receive the same billing as No. 7 Oklahoma State/No. 20 Colorado, viewed as the undercard for the main event by many. But there was no debating the importance of the meeting if taking the long-term view. Both teams entered the game in need of a resume-building victory, as both the Golden Eagles and Lobos have more “misses” than “makes” when it comes to that.
Cullen Neal snapped out of his five-game shooting slump and Cameron Bairstow went for 20 points, ten rebounds and five assists to lead New Mexico to the 75-68 victory, and as a result Buzz Williams’ team heads back to Milwaukee with a fifth loss on the season. And the defeat also makes Big East play even more important for the preseason favorites to win the conference, with their best win to date coming at the expense of George Washington.
On Saturday night Marquette did a good job of finding quality offensive looks after a slow start, shooting 58.3% from the field in the first half. But in the final 20 minutes the Golden Eagles shot 36.4% from the field and made just two of their nine shots from beyond the arc after shooting 5-for-10 in the first half. New Mexico was able to limit Marquette’s second chance opportunities, something the Golden Eagles have been able to make good use of this season, and doing so helped to negate Marquette’s 24-4 edge in bench points.
Now with just one game ahead of the start of Big East play, the Golden Eagles will have some work to do beginning with a New Year’s Eve matchup at Creighton. Marquette’s certainly taken on challenging competition thus far, with New Mexico joining a list that includes Ohio State, Wisconsin, Arizona State and San Diego State. The problem: they didn’t win any of those games.
With that being the case the Golden Eagles will need to rack up wins in conference play, with the hope that they’ll be able to pick up enough of those to balance out the non-conference defeats. By no means is the sky falling, but the path back to the NCAA tournament will be a little tougher for Marquette.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.
For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year.
On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.
Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.
Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.
In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.
As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.
(More to come from Chapel Hill…)
North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.
(H/T: The Cauldron)