Marquette caught in white out
Without starting point guard Dominic James, and with leading scorer Jerel McNeal suffering through a nightmarish afternoon from the floor, conventional wisdom might have suggested a 20-point loss to a bigger and deeper Louisville team.
While the Golden Eagles ultimately did lose for the third time in as many trips to Freedom Hall, they made the Cardinals work all 40 minutes in notching a 62-58 triumph in front of a crowd of 20,079.
Eighth-ranked MU (23-6, 12-4 Big East) did an admirable job against Louisville’s vaunted press, committing just 11 turnovers. The Golden Eagles also kept even with the Cardinals on the boards, 37-37.
They couldn’t overcome poor shooting, however, with McNeal’s 3-for-19 performance signifying the struggles. Wesley Matthews led the way with 19 points, Lazar Hayward had 16 and McNeal finished with 10.
Andre McGee led sixth-ranked Louisville (23-5, 14-2) with 16 points, while Terrence Williams added 14, Samardo Samuels 12 and Earl Clark 10.
Louisville came out of the locker room looking expressly to exploit MU’s size deficiency down low something the Cardinals for some reason didn’t do in the opening 20 minutes.
An 8-1 run in the opening 2 minutes 22 seconds of the second half capped by a clean rip of McNeal at mid-court and ensuing dunk by McGee gave Louisville its biggest lead of the game to that point at 36-26, and prompted coach Buzz Williams to burn a quick time out to regroup.
Coming out of that, the Golden Eagles began slowly chipping away at the deficit by attacking the basket. The Cardinals, meanwhile, went away from looking inside and instead back to jacking up threes.
As a result, MU was able to go on a 12-5 run to get to within 41-38 with 10:54 remaining.
A three from the left wing by McGee broke a nearly five-minute scoring drought for Louisville at that point, and another from nearly the same spot off an MU turnover McGee’s fourth of the game, a season high helped open the Cardinals’ lead back up to seven at 48-41 with 8:54 left.
The Golden Eagles didn’t quit, getting to within 57-53 on a free throw from McNeal with 3:23 left. They had a chance to get even closer with just under 2 minutes to go, but McNeal took a rushed three from the left wing and missed it, and the Cardinals drew a foul on the other end.
Samuels missed a pair of free throws, seemingly keeping the door ajar. But Preston Knowles sneaked in for the offensive board, and then Williams got to the free-throw line, where he knocked down two to make it 59-53 with 1:20 left.
Again, MU wouldn’t quit. The Golden Eagles got a pair of free throws from Matthews, and after giving up a layup to Knowles off the press break, then got a three from the top of the key from Hayward to cut the gap to 61-58 with 22.5 seconds remaining.
MU fouled Samuels on the inbounds, and he knocked down the first of two. The Golden Eagles rushed the ball upcourt and eventually got a three-point attempt from Matthews at the top of the key. He tried drawing a foul on the shot but didn’t get the whistle.
The ball hit the front of the rim, rolled around and then out, largely signifying the afternoon for MU. Louisville corralled the rebound, and ultimately ran out the clock.
That MU was even in the game in the first half was amazing in itself, considering the Golden Eagles shot just 31.3% and McNeal was 2 for 13 alone.
They worked hard defensively, however, and were outstanding in keeping the Cardinals out of the lane. MU also forced Louisville into eight turnovers, leading to nine points.
Williams scored 12 points, with nine of those coming on 3 threes, but Louisville’s huge advantage in size never really paid any dividends, with Clark only scoring six points and Samuels two.
MU also handled the Cardinals’ press without issue in the opening 20 minutes. Maurice Acker received the start in place of the injured Dominic James, as expected, and made no major mistakes in 17 minutes.
David Cubillan also got his first significant action since Big East play started, going seven minutes and knocking down a pair of free throws.
Eight second-chance points off six offensive rebounds were ultimately the difference maker for MU. All told, the Golden Eagles hung tough on the boards, and went into halftime trailing, 18-16.
Matthews and McNeal both went all 20 minutes, with Matthews scoring nine to lead the way. McNeal had five and Hayward four.