With an abundance of team speed and a lack of size, Marquette knows it will face a lot of zone defense. The Golden Eagles, though, appear confident they will make the needed adjustments as they play Northern Iowa on Saturday as part of the Chicago Invitational at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
The 15th-ranked and guard-oriented Golden Eagles (4-0) completed a season-opening four-game homestand with a sluggish 85-68 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday. Jerel McNeal scored 20 points to lead five players in double figures, but after averaging 100.3 points in its previous three games, Marquette got its first extended look against a zone defense and struggled at times, not pulling away until midway through the second half.
“We weren’t attacking, we weren’t being tough,” said forward Lazar Hayward, who added 18 points and nine rebounds. “We’ve all been playing together for three or four years, so we don’t even need to talk about all the things we did wrong because we already know.
“After this game, and our opponents see that, I don’t see why our opponents wouldn’t throw (a zone defense) at us. I think we’ll definitely learn from this and it probably won’t happen like this again.”
McNeal hit four 3-pointers, and Maurice Acker came off the bench to make three from beyond the arc to score 10 for Marquette, which went 10-of-23 from 3-point range. The Golden Eagles had made just 17 3-pointers in their first three games.
“When you see Mo with some pace, we’re probably about ready to have a good possession,” coach Buzz Williams said about Acker. “I think that Mo was able to put some things together that we need him to put together every night.”
Marquette has averaged 96.5 points, with Wesley Matthews scoring 22.8 per game. Hayward is averaging 20.8 points and a team-high 10.0 rebounds, McNeal is contributing 19.8 points per game, and point guard Dominic James has team highs of 20 assists and 13 steals.
Northern Iowa (3-1) also won its two games en route to the Sears Centre, most recently 81-70 over Chicago State on Tuesday. Adam Koch had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Panthers, while Travis Brown added a season-high 14 points off the bench in 18 minutes.
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Koch, along with 7-1 junior Jordan Eglseder, may give the undersized Golden Eagles problems in the paint. Koch has scored in double figures in all four games, averaging 14.5 points on 60.7 percent (17-for-28) shooting, while Eglseder has come off the bench to post 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 77.4 percent (24-for-31).
The Panthers also have found success on the glass and at the foul line in the early part of the season. Northern Iowa is outrebounding opponents by 8.5 per game and hitting 82.7 percent of its free throws.
Freshman point guard Johnny Moran has started quickly, hitting 52.2 percent (12-for-23) of his 3-point shots while averaging 14.8 points and 6.0 rebounds.
This is the first meeting between the teams. Marquette will wrap up its play Saturday against Dayton, while Northern Iowa will face Auburn.