MILWAUKEE (AP)—With Marquette grinding it out against a tough South Florida team and not getting a typical game from two of its main offensive threats, Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews stepped into the spotlight.
Hayward scored a career-high 23 points, and Matthews’ three 3-pointers in a 2-minute span late in the second half propelled the 17th-ranked Golden Eagles to a 62-54 victory Tuesday night.
“They played well. We didn’t play as well,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said. “But we had some guys that found a way to help us win.”
South Florida played Marquette (15-4, 5-3 Big East) close until the final 5 minutes, thanks in large part to defense. The Bulls limited the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer, Dominic James, to three points in 19 minutes and held Jerel McNeal to six.
Bulls coach Stan Heath certainly would have taken that going into Tuesday’s game, but he watched his team’s upset bid fall apart when two of his best players fouled out with the game in doubt.
“We took away their two guys, I felt, and made some other guys try to beat us,” Heath said. “Lazar Hayward did, and so did Wesley Matthews.”
James has been playing through a sprained right wrist since being fouled hard against Seton Hall on Jan. 8, and he appeared to take a forearm in the gut early in Tuesday’s game.
Crean said James was sick to his stomach early, but didn’t necessarily chalk James’ reduced minutes up to injury. Crean said he simply felt that other players, such as Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, gave them a better chance to win on Tuesday.
“The coach’s job is to read the team, and do what’s best to win on that night,” Crean said.
They did—but not without some drama.
Trailing by eight points at halftime, South Florida (10-11, 1-7) used a 10-4 run to tie the game at 42 with 5:10 remaining.
But Matthews responded immediately with a 3-pointer, and South Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder Kentrell Gransberry fouled out with 4:06 remaining.
“We were right there in the thick of things with about four or three minutes to go,” Gransberry said. “It just kind of got away from us.”
Despite Gransberry’s presence, Hayward didn’t hesitate to take the ball hard inside—something his coaches have been prodding him to do.
“That is just a mentality that I have, that coaches have instilled in me: When I get the ball in the middle, not settling for that little jump shot,” Hayward said. “I am just trying to attack no matter who is down there.”
Matthews then sealed the victory with two 3-pointers that put Marquette ahead 52-43 with 2:57 left.
“Coach Crean never told me to stop shooting,” Matthews said. “It was just a matter of shooting with confidence, and that is what I did.”
South Florida’s Dominique Jones, who had 15 points, fouled out less than a minute later.
“It’s not like we’re sitting here with an NBA bench,” Heath said. “It’s tough. It puts a lot of pressure on guys who’ve never had that experience before.”
Gransberry, who had 15 points and 15 rebounds, hurt himself at the free throw line, going 9-for-15.
Marquette’s inside game has been struggling of late, and the Golden Eagles faced a tough test in Gransberry. Coming into Tuesday’s game, the 6-foot-9, 270-pound center was leading the Bulls in scoring (17.1) and rebounding (10.8).
The Golden Eagles mostly contained Gransberry’s offense in the first half, holding him to seven points, but had a hard time keeping him off the boards. Gransberry had nine rebounds in the first half.
Marquette was outrebounded 39-32 on Tuesday, and has been outrebounded in its last seven games.
Tuesday’s game was a reunion of the Tom Izzo coaching tree, as Crean and Heath both were on Izzo’s staff at Michigan State in the late 1990s. Heath is in his first year at South Florida after five seasons at Arkansas.