Golden Eagles able to beat Butler on National Marquette Day despite struggles on offense

The Marquette men’s basketball team is used to beating opponents this season with a highly efficient offense.

But in their last two games, the Golden Eagles have had to scrap out hard-earned victories.

Just like against Villanova on Wednesday, MU’s defense had to rise to the occasion to hold off Butler, 60-52, on Saturday on National Marquette Day at Fiserv Forum.

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“The goal is to be at a high level on both ends of the floor,” said MU head coach Shaka Smart. “But one of the things that I’ve learned in coaching is that in most games you’re going to be significantly better on one end than the other.

“We have those games where everything’s clicking and you’re playing at a really, really high level, then your offense is terrific and your defense is terrific and you win like 80-50. But that’s unrealistic to do most of the time."

MU remained tied with Xavier atop the Big East standings.

Freshman Chase Ross helps out Marquette in crunch time

Butler (11-13, 3-10 Big East) came into the game having lost four straight by 20 or more points. It looked like 14th-ranked MU (19-5, 11-2) would cruise after racing out to a 16-3 lead.

The Bulldogs fought back with a 10-0 run and it was disjointed from there for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette guard Chase Ross leaps to deflect the ball away from Butler's Jalen Thomas in the first half on Saturday.
Marquette guard Chase Ross leaps to deflect the ball away from Butler's Jalen Thomas in the first half on Saturday.

Butler closed within 53-48 with just under five minutes remaining when Smart called a timeout.

MU big man Oso Ighodaro then found freshman Chase Ross for a layup that helped cut the tension among the sold-out crowd of 17,592 fans.

“Honestly we didn’t draw anything up,” Ross said. “We just played. Like play off of feel.

“I see the back of my guy’s head, I cut. And just play off Oso. Like when he’s in the post, we all just move around because he’s going to find people. That’s how we get the ball movement.”

Ross got to play a majority of the crunch-time minutes, helping MU hold Butler to 1-for-5 shooting and two turnovers the rest of the way after his layup.

“He’s a dude,” Smart said. “I think for a freshman he plays with great poise.

“You can count on him to defend a lot of different spots. I thought he was playing really efficiently on offense. Not trying to force too much, but at the same time being ready to attack. He’s gained a lot of trust.”

Marquette’s efficient offense stalls out

Ross had 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting. Tyler Kolek (13 points and eight assists) and Olivier-Maxence Prosper (10) were MU’s other double-digit scorers.

“It’s basketball,” Ross said. “I’ve played this my whole life. Honestly, I just rose to the occasion. I feel like I’m due for it just like Shaka said.”

Otherwise, the Golden Eagles’ offense wasn’t operating at its usual efficiency. MU had 13 turnovers and shot 7 for 21 on three-pointers and 9 for 15 on free throws.

MU’s performance dropped it from the top spot in adjusted offensive efficiency on statistical website

Smart compared the way Butler was guarding MU to the way that Villanova did earlier in the week in switching defenders and not giving the Golden Eagles space to operate.

“For our team, there’s a bunch of stuff on offense specifically that we will look at as a team,” Smart said. “Our guys are really, really smart.

“But it’s a fine line because there’s a growing confidence that they have that they can score in different kinds of ways. And so, sometimes, hopefully you actually gain a level of humility from games like today. We only scored 60 points. We scored .91 points per possession. That’s not good enough. That’s not who we want to be.”

Stevie Mitchell, Ben Gold make winning plays

With the offense not clicking, the Golden Eagles had to rely on hustle plays to make the difference.

Butler closed the gap to 25-20 at the end of the first half before Kolek dropped in a floating layup.

Then freshman forward Ben Gold, who played 19 minutes, forced a steal and Kolek was fouled on the fast break. After a video review by the officials, it was deemed a Flagrant 1.

Kolek knocked down both free throws, then on the inbound play he fired a pass to Kam Jones in the corner for a three-pointer just before the buzzer that gave MU a 32-20 lead at the break.

“We decided that we were going to trap the ball screen,” Smart said. "The guys executed well.

“Ben Gold, this was his best defensive game of the year. I’m really proud of him. He scored one basket, but he was impactful for winning. And that’s, as a freshman, a mental leap.”

Then in the final minute with MU clinging to a 58-52 advantage, Stevie Mitchell subbed in for Ross and played scrappy on-ball defense to get a key stop. Against Villanova, Mitchell also scrapped for a key rebound in the final minute to seal that victory.

"Stevie Mitchell's a winner," Smart said. "His game goes beyond any statistics. You can't tell from a piece of paper what he did to help the game. And he has unbelievable pride in his team and his teammates."

Kolek then made two free throws to seal the victory, though it wasn’t pretty.

“It says a lot about the team,” Ross said. “Throughout the season the things we’ve been through, with the winning, today it was just one of those like, OK, a little sloppy (on) offense and defense.

“But we all came together and stuck together.”

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Golden Eagles beat Butler 60-52 on National Marquette Day at Fiserv