"A young team doesn't understand what kind of bite a team's gonna come back at you with." - Mike Dunlap, postgame
At the end of the first half, D`Angelo Harrison and Maurice Harkless were watching from the bench with a pair of fouls each - Harrison, sitting from the 4.20 mark, and Harkless sitting for the last nine minutes. And still, St. John's was up a point, 32-31, scoring more efficiently (1 point per possession while holding the Golden Eagles to .97 ppp), protecting the ball, and keeping Marquette out of the paint.
It seemed that Marquette (13-4, 2-2 Big East) and their lackluster offense could be an upset victim of the Johnnies. Star Darius Johnson-Odom was held to 2 points, Jae Crowder held to 4, and the toughness from the Cincinnati game seemed to bleed over.
But with an increase in the pace, aggressive defense in the passing lanes, and an early exit from D`Angelo Harrison, Marquette took control of tonight's game and ran their way to a 83-64 victory over the St. John's Red Storm (8-8, 2-3Big East) at the Bradley Center.
St. John's faces Georgetown in the Garden on Sunday. Marquette stays home to welcome the Pittsburgh Panthers, who were blown out 62-39 by Rutgers tonight.
From the opening minutes of the second half when the Johnnies were trading baskets with the Golden Eagles, the game was in control by Buzz Williams' squad - the pace was sped up a notch, the Marquette pressure defense was more active, with Jae Crowder picking up three steals. The Marquette lead ballooned to 25 along the way.
D`Angelo Harrison picked up his fourth foul after stealing the ball and driving into the waiting chest of Crowder. The fifth foul came on a drive into a pair of Marquette players in the paint. It was already 56-45 when he fouled out; Harrison would have made the final score closer, but the team was struggling to keep pace even with him on the court.
"I think we could have done a better job moving the ball," Harrison said after the game. "The ball got kind of stagnant in the second half." The Johnnies struggled to find a reliable scoring option who could create through the Golden Eagles' pressure; the Storm had 11 turnovers in the second half, 28.8% of their possessions.
Harrison finished with 10 points on 3-6 shooting. God`sgift led the team with 20 points and 7 rebounds, 13 points in the first half. Harkless had 17 points - all but 2 in the second half. The second half saw the Red Storm giving up 17 points off of turnovers, 69% scoring inside the paint, and 1.36 points per possession.
Davante Gardner had a career high 22 points and 15 total rebounds; Darius Johnson-Odom finished with 20 points, 18 in the second half.
"We had turnovers in the backcourt," God'sgift said after the game, "and they got free layups. They didn't have to work for their layups."
D`Angelo Harrison is the most important player on the team right now. Without him, the offense struggled, lacking movement and life. Part of that may be the deflation of not having the most creative player on the team on the floor. Part of that is the shot-creator role falls to Moe Harkless - who finishes plays that others create at this stage in his game - and to Phil Greene/ Sir`Dominic Pointer, who need more development as scorers.
Contain the aggressiveness. Harrison looked to attack the basket and spark the Johnnies. But his aggressiveness has consequences. As a key player, he needs to manage his aggressiveness aside the game situation. "We talked about how he could have pulled up and shot a banker," Dunlap said, "but the only way to really teach him that is by him getting burnt by that and getting the fourth foul and putting it in the hands of the official. But you can't teach that in practice. He's got to feel that."
God`sGift Achiuwa can make plays when he can handle the ball. Tonight, Gift didn't have to work the ball from the mid-range area in, and he got easy shots that he could finish; and he was effective, big in the paint.
The Johnnies need size (but you knew that). Marquette enjoyed themselves, feasting on 12 offensive rebounds - 40% of their misses. Davante Gardner and Jae Crowder (15 points, 9 rebounds) pushed around Sir`Dominic Pointer in the paint. The defensive rotation was slow, and both forwards got deep position. It wasn't just size that hurt - but size would help.