Marquette and Dayton both improved to 5-0 Friday night with wins that couldn’t have been any more different.
The 15th-ranked Golden Eagles and Flyers put those perfect records on the line Saturday night when they meet in the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
Marquette had no trouble beating Northern Iowa 73-43 on Friday in its first game away from home this season. The Golden Eagles built a 32-8 lead in the first half against their overmatched opponents, using a run of 20 unanswered points to take control.
“When you have to play the up-tempo game and keep up with us, it takes a lot out of teams,” Golden Eagles guard Dominic James said. “We wanted to get into transition and get into our running game.”
In the game that preceded that contest, Dayton escaped despite an unusually poor shooting performance to beat Auburn 60-59 in overtime. The Flyers missed all 24 of their 3-point attempts, but Marcus Johnson scored eight of his team-high 16 points in the extra session to rescue them.
For the game, Dayton shot 27.8 percent (20 of 72) overall from the field. Chris Wright, with 10 points, was the only other Flyer besides Johnson in double figures.
“The game might not have been the prettiest, but the win sure was,” Dayton coach Brian Gregory said. “We beat an SEC team, with SEC toughness. Our team took another step forward tonight.”
Dayton entered the game shooting 39.5 percent on 3-pointers.
“I think on offense we just get too excited,” Wright said. “I know personally, I get that way sometimes. But you just have to concentrate and slow down.”
The matchups in this event at the Sears Centre in suburban Chicago were set before Friday’s action, and Gregory had no illusions about what to expect Saturday even before Marquette took the court.
“Marquette is a Final Four contender,” Gregory said. “They start a three-guard lineup, and those three guards are great players, individually and collectively. But they bring two more guards off the bench who are just as good.
“Marquette may have the best collection of five guards of any team in the country. We’re going to be challenged every minute of the game tomorrow night.”
That three-guard lineup of Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and James combined to score only 38 points on Friday, but none logged more than 26 minutes because of the lopsided score. Matthews had 17 points to lead the Golden Eagles.
First-year coach Buzz Williams was more impressed with his team’s defensive effort. Marquette limited Northern Iowa to 35.3 percent shooting after allowing Texas Southern to make 10 3-pointers and shoot 48.1 percent in an 85-68 win on Tuesday.
“We grew up and we matured from a defensive standpoint tonight,” Williams said
Marquette holds a 20-13 edge in the all-time series. Dayton has won four of the last five meetings, including a 92-85 overtime victory in the last matchup on Jan. 4, 2003.