MILWAUKEE (AP)—Two games against unranked opponents turned out to be surprisingly tough tests for No. 10 Marquette.
Two days after struggling to win its season opener against IUPUI, the Golden Eagles needed a second-half surge to beat Utah Valley 66-55 on Monday night.
While Marquette coach Tom Crean can take some solace in knowing that his team didn’t join Kentucky or Southern California as ranked teams losing early season games to teams they were supposed to beat, the Golden Eagles will need a better effort going into next week’s Maui Invitational.
“I think it’s been two very good tests for us at home to figure out how to win,” Crean said.
Marquette got 13 points from guard Dominic James, including the 1,000th of his career.
James said the Golden Eagles might have lost a game like this last season, but are showing more maturity.
“Everybody’s very poised,” James said. “Everybody knows what their job is.”
Even though his team took Marquette deep into the second half, Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker said he never sensed that Marquette’s players thought they might lose the game.
“I thought they always anticipated they were going to end up being the victor,” Hunsaker said.
The Golden Eagles also needed a second-half run to beat IUPUI in the season opener on Saturday.
“Honestly, I’m glad we’ve had a couple of close games,” James said. “Get them out of the way early.”
Dwight Burke and David Cubillan both added 12 points for Marquette and Lazar Hayward had 11.
Ryan Toolson was 5-for-9 from 3-point range and scored 20 points for Utah Valley (0-2).
But Toolson hit only one 3-pointer in the second half as James clamped down on defense, and the Wolverines shot 25.9 percent from the field in the second half.
“We simply didn’t have enough juice to continue to manufacture our offense,” Hunsaker said.
Marquette opened the second half with a 12-3 run for a seven-point lead before Toolson hit a 3-pointer. Ousmane Barro of Marquette and Joe Walker of Utah Valley then tangled on the other end of the court, leading to a brief but tense confrontation.
Barro fell to the floor, and Walker continued to stand directly above him after play had been stopped. Barro got up, and the two began arguing before being separated by teammates.
Walker extended his hand to Barro after the confrontation cooled down, but Barro refused to acknowledge the gesture. Both coaches then made substitutions, taking Barro and Walker out of the game before play continued.
“I want Ousmane to chase rebounds the way he chased (number) 23,” Crean said. “We don’t need those things.”
Barro, a part-time starter last season, has taken a back seat to Burke in the first two games and did not score in 14 minutes on Monday. Crean said he wanted to see Barro compete for the job in practice.
“We need Ousmane to play much better, there’s no question about that,” Crean said.
Hunsaker said the incident didn’t affect the way his team played the rest of the half.
James hit a 3-pointer with 4:20 to play that gave the Golden Eagles (2-0) a 57-50 lead. Walker hit one free throw, and Marquette’s Wesley Matthews responded with a lean-in jumper that made it 59-51 with 4:20 remaining.
With a free throw earlier in the second half, James became the 38th player in school history to score 1,000 points. James, who flirted with an early entry to the NBA draft in the offseason but decided to return to Marquette, needed nine points entering the game.
Would James have preferred to reach the milestone with a dunk?
“No—the free throw, I like that better,” said James, who has struggled to hit free throws at times in his career.
Utah Valley, Division I’s top independent last season, took a 34-32 halftime lead on tough defense and hot 3-point shooting by Toolson and Richard Troyer.
Toolson was 4-for-6 on 3s in the first half but he did miss a free throw just before halftime, a rare occurrence for a player who was the nation’s top free-throw shooter at 97 percent last season.