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.