MILWAUKEE (AP)—Wesley Matthews did his part to make sure Buzz Williams won his Marquette coaching debut—and then handed the new coach the game ball.
Matthews scored a career-high 27 points and No. 16 Marquette rolled past Houston Baptist 95-64 on Friday night.
“It’s just a game,” said Matthews, who added a career-high eight assists and five steals. “We don’t really think about, ‘Let’s get coach this win.’ We want to get this win. He wants to get the win just as bad as we do. It’s great. We handed him the game ball and everything after, but we feel like we want a lot more wins than just this first one.”
Jerel McNeal had 20 points, and Lazar Hayward added 19 points and 12 rebounds for Marquette. The Golden Eagles never trailed and broke open the game with a 14-0 spurt to start the second half.
It was an impressive debut for Williams, who took over in April, shortly after Tom Crean became the coach at Indiana. Williams was an assistant under Crean last season and served as head coach at the University of New Orleans in 2006-07.
Williams inherited an experienced team returning its top four scorers from a year ago, including three senior guards—McNeal, Matthews and Dominic James— who have each scored more than 1,000 points at Marquette. The Golden Eagles finished 25-10 in 2007-08 and lost to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The track record, however, did little to calm Williams, who admitted he cried in his car outside the Bradley Center after Marquette’s exhibition opener against Colorado State-Pueblo on Saturday.
“It was an emotional day,” Williams said. “I was really excited because I like it when games count, like players do, because I like to compete. I tried to manage my emotions better today. I went to the cleaners; I loaded the dishwasher for my wife. I tried to do a lot of different things I typically don’t do just because I typically don’t do them, and I have to concentrate on them.”
Gordon Watt led Houston Baptist with 17 points and Baron Sauls added 15.
Matthews and McNeal combined for nine points at the start of the second half, turning a 42-34 lead into a 56-34 cushion. Houston Baptist lost the ball five times and missed all four of its shots during the spurt.
“The second half, they came out on fire and doing what they wanted to do, and we didn’t answer the bell,” Houston Baptist coach Ron Cottrell said.
Matthews, whose previous career high was 22 points, made 7 of 11 shots, including a pair of 3-pointers, and 11 of 12 free throws.
“Works for me,” Matthews said of his effort. “But I just got that in the flow of the game. It wasn’t anything special. My teammates were finding me in the right spots.”
Williams took notice.
“I don’t know that we necessarily need him to score 27 points, but we need him to play with the energy and the pace and the juice that he played with in the 31 minutes he played tonight,” Williams said. “Because of his versatility, it has a positive impact on our team on both ends of the floor because of how hard he competes on every single possession. How many times did he dive on the floor? He was on the floor all night. He’s guarding everybody. He played the two, three, four and five for us tonight. That’s absolutely incredible.”
Said Cottrell: “We knew going in that he was going to be a tough matchup for us, and it proved to be.”
Demetrus Judge had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Houston Baptist, which is in the midst of the transition from NAIA Division I to playing a full NCAA Division I schedule this season.
Houston Baptist, which went 13-15 last season, joined the Great West Conference in July. The Huskies also competed at the NCAA Division I level from 1973-89.