Marquette opens Big East ‘gauntlet’ with 78-72 win
WASHINGTON (AP)—At the team hotel Friday night, Marquette coach Buzz Williams gathered his players in his room, spreading pillows all around so everyone could be comfortable. Then they watched some games, including the 10th-ranked Golden Eagles’ win over Georgetown last month.
“It was 23-14 and they were absolutely whipping us every single possession, and I didn’t call a timeout,” Williams said. “And I paused it at that moment in time, and I said ‘Guys, coaching school says right here, right now, call time out.’ I’m not calling a timeout.”
Sure enough, history repeated itself Saturday. When Georgetown went on a first-half run that wiped out Marquette’s lead, Williams let his players play. They withstood the charge, then controlled play in the second half to open their brutal Big East homestretch with a 78-72 victory that completed a sweep of the Hoyas.
“You have to be emotionally tough enough to overcome teams’ runs,” Williams said. “And if you can’t overcome the runs, you can call time out every single run, and it’s not going to matter. That may be my inexperience-slash-immaturity, but I have great faith in our players.”
Whether inexperienced or immature or inept—another word he used on himself during the news conference—Williams is also something else: In the hunt for a regular season title in his first season as a head coach in the Big East.
The Golden Eagles committed only one second-half turnover, gave up only two second-half offensive rebounds and allowed only one second-half 3-pointer—and that was a meaningless heave in the final seconds.
Wesley Matthews scored 23 points, including a career-high five 3-pointers, while Jerel McNeal added 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds while playing all 40 minutes for the Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2).
“Over the last 10 minutes of the game, we were hitting on all cylinders,” Williams said.
Lazar Hayward added 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Golden Eagles, who committed only six turnovers overall to remain one-half game behind first-place Connecticut. Marquette’s final four games are against the top-ranked Huskies, No. 7 Louisville, No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 24 Syracuse, prompting guard Dominic James to tell Williams “Here comes the gauntlet” after Tuesday’s win over Seton Hall.
“Maybe it’s because it’s my first year in the league, but they’re all absolutely brutal to me, whether they’re at home or on the road, the first five, last five, middle five,” Williams said.
Williams said his team has “never talked about first place,” but that’s apparently only when he’s not around. Asked about Wednesday’s game against UConn, Matthews flashed a huge smile and said: “You can say it’s just another game, or the next game on the schedule—both are true—but the implications of this game are big.”
Georgetown was a top 10 team last month, but the Hoyas (14-11, 5-9) have lost seven of nine while grappling with their own tough slate. On a day in which the school celebrated the 25th anniversary of its only NCAA championship team, the Hoyas failed to get the kind of victory needed if they are to secure a berth in this year’s tournament.
Afterward, Hoyas coach John Thompson III, who usually avoids questions about comparisons, called this his toughest season as a head coach.
“Period. Not just at Georgetown,” Thompson said. “But we’ll get through this. Yeah, it’s trying. But we’re going to do what we do. We’re going to try to get better from the top on down.”
Chris Wright scored 17 points, Austin Freeman had 16 and Greg Monroe 13 for the Hoyas, who lost despite shooting 51 percent. DaJuan Summers, Georgetown’s leading scorer on the season, had 12 points and four rebounds and fouled out with 2:47 to play.
The Golden Eagles took the lead for good on Matthews’ 3-pointer with 7:58 to play, but they couldn’t build a lead bigger than six points until the game’s final minute. In a vital possession, Marquette worked the shot clock to single digits before McNeal found Jimmy Butler for an open layup to make it 73-67 with 54 seconds to play.
Much of the game hardly resembled anything out of the bruising Big East. Playing at a breakneck pace, both teams shot better than 60 percent over the first 12 minutes. Monroe made a play the envy of big men everywhere, stealing the ball near midcourt and then flying down the middle of the lane for a one-handed jam, but Georgetown’s best player had few quality touches and did not score over the last 18 minutes of the game.
As for his game management, Williams said it took half the season for his assistants to stop yelling “timeout” during other teams’ runs. During a bad spurt at DePaul, Williams said even the officials were looking at him, asking “Are you’re going to call time out?”
“That’s the trust he has in us, and the trust we have in him,” Matthews said. “When he trusts us that much to put the game in our hands, we have ownership.”