CINCINNATI – Xavier and Marquette boast two of the most effective offenses in men’s college basketball.
So, with a battle at the Centas Center on Sunday, and the Golden Eagles getting a chance to tie for the top of the Big East standings, teams were expected to put up points early and often.
This was the case in the first half.
But when the game slowed down, the #12 Knights managed to strike a knockout to score an 80-76 decision in the heavyweight fight with 25yRanked golden eagles.
Xavier (15-3, 7-0 Big East) has won an 11-game winning streak, while seeing MU (14-5, 6-2) snap its five-game winning streak.
“It’s always hard coming here,” said MU coach Shaka Smart. Because you know it’s going to be a lone crowd.
“You know Xavier is going to be very high energy. He’s obviously a really good coach. I thought their guys played with fantastic grit. They were able to run on some loose balls that ended up being a huge lead.”
square score:Xavier 80, Marquette 76
Tyler Kolek was hot in the first half but the game turned into a brawl
The Golden Eagles led 48-44 at halftime, as the crowd of 10,508 wildly enjoyed the back-and-forth run.
MU point guard Tyler Kolek was able to find holes in the Knights’ defense and put up 20 points in the first half while finishing most of them in left lane.
But Kulick scored just five points in the second half, going 2-for-7, and put the Golden Eagles up just 28 points after halftime.
“They’ve transformed a little bit more,” Smart said. So when he was driving in the first half in the pick-and-roll, he was able to attack what’s called drop coverage where the big type drops back.
“If he doesn’t stick, you can keep going and put the ball forward.”
Jack Nung of the Xavier Center said Kulick was at the center of his team’s discussions about adjustments in the first half.
“We let him reach his left hand a lot,” Nung said. “He was really good at downhill, whether he was kicking it or scoring himself.
“We kind of had to lock him up. We knew on bringing back the screens we were going to switch him over and we did a good job in the second half.”
Smart also felt that burnout was a factor for his team.
“I thought Cam Jones was tired,” said the MU coach. “I did a bad job of subduing him. I didn’t realize he played 35 and a half minutes.
“I’ve got to get him out of there a little bit more. Because he cuts a lot of offense, which takes energy, and I thought in the second half he was a little nervous and they did a good job of saying we weren’t going to let him get away.”
Jones scored eight of MU’s first 10 points and finished with 12. But he only had two points in the second half on 1-for-6 shooting.
“I feel like we got exactly the same look we wanted,” said Jones. “We had some quick snaps. Not much that cost us the game. I feel like we had a much better percentage in the first half.”
Marquette has trouble with Xavier’s size, struggles to fit 7-foot Jack Nunge into attacking glass
Xavier took advantage of his size by hauling in 17 offensive rebounds and scoring 17 second chance points.
Not finishing defensive stops with the rebound has been an ongoing problem with the MU team this season.
“A few 50-50 balls we could have gotten quicker than them,” said Jones. “We talked about it in the huddle. We’ll get better at it. Be quicker with the ball.”
Nong, a 7-foot-1, finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, eight of which were on the offensive end.
“It’s kind of picking poison,” Smart said. “They run a really good business where you either have to put two players on the ball in catch and roll or hand over the ball. Or you have to switch.
“And I thought our guys, maybe about 80% of those actions, our guys did a good job of beating the screens as we say and move on. But where we didn’t, we had to switch. Or we could have put two on the ball, but Xavier is a great team at scroll.
“And so we got the keys, and then I got Nunge up to 7 feet against Stevie Mitchell, Sean Jones, Cam Jones. And that’s a huge size advantage.”
It didn’t help that MU center Oso Ighodaro had serious trouble in the first half. He still finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
“Uso is one of the two or three best players on our team,” said Smart. “So when you take a guy like that off the field, it’s different.
“For us, especially, it’s not like we have a big trolley, so when he comes off we have to adjust our game. There are some advantages with our shooting line-up when he’s off the field, but there are also some disadvantages to him not being there.”
Sully Boom is Xavier’s clutcher down the stretch
The Golden Eagles showed some guts by getting a powerhouse jumper from David Joplin — initially called out before the video review — and a hook shot from Igodaro to tie the game at 72-72 with 1:12 remaining.
But Xavier guard Sully Baum, who was a key transfer from Texas El Paso, hit a hard drive over Igodaro 46 seconds before the MU guard moved on.
MU’s Olivier-Maxence-Prosper couldn’t get a jumper in the paint for a fall, and Baum made four free throws in the final 28 seconds to seal the victory.
“I think when you’re on the road in this league against a first-place team, that’s as close as you can ask,” Smart said. “You wouldn’t go in and blow anyone up.
“And so Xavier had the ball in the hands of the scorers. We don’t want to switch, but we were switched and he made a difficult shot. Then we went down the other end, I thought we had a good shot, we didn’t manage to get around the basket.”
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