MILWAUKEE (AP)—Marquette’s trio of talented guards came through as expected. It was the Golden Eagles’ most experienced player, center Ousmane Barro, who gave the Golden Eagles a big lift to start Big East play.
Barro had his best offensive game of the season with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Dominic James scored 21 points and Lazar Hayward added 17 to lead No. 10 Marquette to a 96-67 victory over Providence on Thursday night.
“(It was) not that I was waiting for the Big East, but I was just being more of a presence down low,” said Barro, a 6-foot-10 native of Senegal who has appeared in 103 games. “They were looking for me a little bit.”
Marquette (11-1) won its seventh straight game because the Golden Eagles were too fast and too deep for Providence and suffocated the Friars’ few offensive weapons. Marquette outrebounded the Friars 37-23 and its reserves outscored Providence’s 36-17.
“It was like pieces of different basketball that wasn’t enough to play against Marquette,” Providence coach Tim Welsh said. “First half it was free throw shooting and turnovers, second half it was basically lack of toughness.”
James had said he hoped to take advantage of Providence’s lack of depth with the Friars missing starting point guard Sharaud Curry and backup Dwain Williams due to injuries.
James did, and got some unexpected help from Barro, who easily surpassed his season averages in points and rebounds while blocking three shots. James’ backcourtmates, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal, also had strong performances, with Matthews scoring a season-high 16 points and McNeal adding nine assists despite battling the flu.
“Outstanding,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said of their effort. “That’s a very physical, competitive group of young men. Those three guards together, we’ve got a lot of other competitors on this team, but they certainly lead the way with so much and feed off of each other.”
Brian McKenzie had 21 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range for Providence (9-4), which had a four-game winning streak snapped.
“We only had 14 defensive rebounds all night long, they had 14 offensive rebounds,” Welsh said. “That number right there tells you right there they’re quicker to the ball, tougher to the ball, more physical.”
Said Providence forward Geoff McDermott: “We weren’t rebounding at all. … That’s probably the biggest thing that changed the game.”
That, and the turnovers. The Friars committed 17, 12 in the first half, and Marquette opened the second half on a 22-5 run as the Friars’ frustration began to bubble.
Providence’s Jeff Xavier was called for an intentional foul against James, who clutched his right ankle after appearing to roll on it. But James shook it off, hit both free throws and then drained a 3-pointer to make it a five-point trip and give the Golden Eagles a 63-37 lead with just under 14 minutes to play.
Four minutes later, McDermott and McNeal battled for the ball and kept going after the whistle blew, both drawing technical fouls as they stood toe-to-toe even though McNeal patted McDermott as they were being separated with the Golden Eagles up 66-42.
“I told him ‘Forget about the play’ and tapped him on the side,” McDermott said. “I guess I understand the refs’ point of view. He doesn’t know what I’m saying to him, so next time I’ll just walk away.”
Providence never got closer than 20 points down the stretch.
Last season before their conference opener with the Friars, the Golden Eagles hurt each other when Matthews and McNeal bumped heads during a drill in practice and were taken to the hospital as a precaution. Providence won a few days later.
“Last year we struggled down there playing them,” Barro said. “We didn’t want to make the same mistakes that we did down there.”
Marquette improved to 14-3 on their home court in the start of their third season of Big East play.
“It’s a great feeling to start off 1-0 in this league,” Crean said. “Obviously any win you can get is a big win with as many teams as there are and with as many games as we’re going to play in this league. So you’ve got to bottle it up and take it.”