Barely more than four miles separate Marquette and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The distance between the schools on the basketball court has proven much greater.
The 15th-ranked Golden Eagles look to extend their perfect record against their crosstown rivals Saturday at the Bradley Center.
Marquette (2-0) has won all 35 games between the teams in the 91-year history of the series, which resumed last season. These programs, which had not played each other since 1998, agreed to a five-year contract to play on an annual basis in a deal similar to the one the Panthers (3-1) have with No. 25 Wisconsin.
The Golden Eagles improved to 32-0 all-time at home versus the Panthers - the third-longest active home winning streak over one team in Division I - with a 100-65 win on Nov. 30 as Dominic James scored 22 points and Jerel McNeal added 16 and 10 assists.
The 35 straight victories mark the second-longest active streak against a single opponent, trailing Syracuse’s 42-game run versus Colgate, and tie for eighth all-time. The Golden Eagles have won the last 22 by double digits since a 29-25 victory in 1935, when Wisconsin-Milwaukee was known as Milwaukee State Teachers.
The Golden Eagles have started quickly under first-year coach Buzz Williams, scoring 90 points in consecutive games for the first time since the 1994-95 season. Senior Wesley Matthews scored 26 points - one shy off his career high set in Marquette’s season-opening win - in Monday’s 106-87 victory over Chicago State.
Matthews averaged just 11.2 points in his first three seasons with the Golden Eagles.
“I think he’s a lot more comfortable,” said teammate Lazar Hayward, who scored 19 of his 21 in the second half Monday. “This offense is predicated on guys who can do a lot of different things. That’s why he stands out a little more than last year.”
While the offense has clicked, Williams has worries about the defense, especially after seeing his players commit 27 fouls.
“We spend an inordinate amount of time talking about defending without fouling,” Williams said. “We can not stop the clock and give them free points. We can’t foul 27 times. No matter who the opponent is, no matter where the game is, we have to defend without fouling.”
Hayward is averaging 20.0 points and a team-high 10.5 rebounds, while Matthews is second in rebounding (7.0) and adds 5.5 assists per game to tie McNeal (18.5 ppg) for the team lead. But James is struggling to find his niche, totaling 13 points, eight assists and seven steals through two games - shooting 4-of-12 from the field and 3-for-11 from the foul line after being an All-Big East second teamer last season.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee tuned up for this game with am 87-59 rout of Division II Upper Iowa on Wednesday. Avery Smith scored 22 points for the Panthers, whose 60.0 percent (30-for-50) shooting was the fourth-best in school history. Deonte Roberts added 12 points and James Eayrs 11 as Wisconsin-Milwaukee scored 50 points in the paint and 24 in transition.
“I want us to share the basketball,” said Panthers coach Rob Jeter, a former assistant at Marquette under Mike Deane. “We were able to get some places without making a pass, but I thought we were a little careless at times, with a few unforced turnovers.”
Smith has averaged 15.0 points in two games on 57.1 percent shooting for the Panthers, while Tone Boyle (14.5 ppg) and Ricky Franklin (11.8) also average in double figures.
Jeter will be on the sidelines despite the death of his father, former Green Bay Packers cornerback Bob Jeter, on Thursday due to what is believed to be cardiac arrest.
A victory would make Marquette the 50th program in NCAA history with 1,400 wins.