Madison,WI – Marquette fans have to go back to the Al McGuire years to remember a center-forward combination as skilled as the Golden Eagles’ present day combination of center Luke Fischer and forward Henry Ellenson.
Both players put their considerable skills on display on Saturday afternoon combining for 27 points and 19 rebounds to help Marquette grind out a 57-55 victory over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in Madison in the schools’ annual intra-state rivalry game.
“These two guys up here, I wouldn’t trade them for any frontcourt in the country,” said a proud Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski of his two bigs sharing the stage with him at the postgame press conference. “Luke has been a rock ever since I’ve been here and Henry is having as good a season as any freshman in the country.”
First Ellenson and then Fischer made huge plays in the last 70 seconds of the game as Marquette was able to withstand the late-game charge of Wisconsin while extending its winning streak to seven and improving its record to 8-2.
Showing off rarely seen ball handling skills for a 6-11 freshman, Ellenson broke down his defender at the top of the circle, spun with his dribble in the paint and finished at the rim with his left (off) hand to put Marquette up 55-53 with 70 seconds to play.
After Wisconsin do-everything forward Nigel Hayes banked in long two-pointer from the right angle to tie the score at 55, Ellenson again attacked the basket. Unable to get to the rim this time, he floated up a six-foot shot from along the right baseline with 27 seconds left that missed its mark. But there to clean up the miss for Marquette was Fischer, whose tip-in put the Golden Eagles back up by two and gave them their final margin of victory.
“I thought Henry had a good look for us there,” said Fischer. “I was at the right place at the right time. No one boxed me out and it was a pretty easy put back for me.”
“Down the stretch, I was just trying to make a play getting to the rack and finishing strong,” added Ellenson.
After closing out the first half on an eight-to-one run to take a 29-24 lead into the locker room, the Golden Eagles maintained a 39-32 advantage six minutes into the second half. That’s when Ellenson decided to impose his will on the game and showcase his skill set to the eight NBA scouts in attendance.
First he executed a pretty show-and-go move to lose his defender on the perimeter and finish through contact at the rim for an and-one opportunity. Next time with the ball, Marquette found Ellenson in a mid-range post-up. Using his 6-11 height and long arms to window shop a double team, he found Fischer at the rim for a dunk. Finally, with the Badgers still not able to answer at their end of the court, Ellenson took advantage of a rare slice of space to show off his shooting range and connect on a wing three-point shot that expanded the Marquette lead to 46-32.
Built along the lines of former Indiana center Cody Zeller at 6-11 with a touch less athleticism, Fischer is a rim-running big who in a free flowing game will beat his counterpart to the rim to give Marquette an early scoring option. But against the defensive-minded Badgers, Fischer was forced to rely on his back-to-the basket game playing against a mostly set Wisconsin defense.
Banging most of the game against Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, a 6-9, 235 pound redshirt freshman and the cousin of Toronto Blue Jays left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ, Fischer scored on an combination of baby hook shots with both hands and dunks.
A quick jumper, Fischer protects the rim and blocks over two shots a game. He drew cheers from the small, but vocal, contingent of Marquette fans in the crowd late in the first half when he extended high to swat away a shot of Happ’s.
While many players would gladly take the 5-for-10 shooting game from the field Fischer that put up, it actually did damage to Fischer’s shooting percentage as he entered the game with a Big East best mark of .685.
“I feel very fortunate and excited to win here today,” said Wojciechowski. “I knew it would be a very difficult game and that we’d have to show great maturity and toughness, and I thought our players did both.”
While maybe no longer the highlight of each school’s non-conference schedule, the Marquette-Wisconsin game still generates great passion in the state among both schools’ players, students, alumni and fans. Six of the scholarship players for the Golden Eagles and three for the Badgers hailed from Wisconsin.
Asked about the significance of winning a rivalry game, Ellenson said the victory felt “great. We live with these guys (Wisconsin players) all year and we wanted to show who was the better team in the state. It’s awesome.”
Beating a Bo Ryan team anywhere is never easy, but beating one in Madison is about as hard a task as there is in NCAA basketball. Wisconsin entered the game with a 108-10 record in non-conference games in the Kohl Center.
“Like I’ve said a time or two before, it’s hard to play from behind,” said Ryan. “They did a good job walling up with their bigs and shutting down our penetration.
“You’re not going to get fouled a whole lot shooting jump shots.” Ryan made that last comment after glancing at the stat sheet and noticing that his team took only four free throws in the entire game.
Wisconsin returned two starters in Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig from the team that battled Duke before coming up short in last season’s NCAA championship game. Hayes entered the game having recorded double-doubles in three of Wisconsin’s last four games. He also established a career scoring high by dropping 32 points on the University of Milwaukee in the Badgers last game on Wednesday night.
But points would be hard to come by this game for the 6-8 junior from Toledo. Although he was giving up two inches and 40 pounds, Marquette’s Sandy Cohen harassed Hayes on the catch, contained dribble penetration and contested his outside shot.
Calling Hayes “one of the most versatile players in the country,” Wojciechowski had nothing but praise for Cohen’s defensive efforts. “The job Sandy Cohen did against Hayes was remarkable,” said the second year Marquette coach.
Koenig did hit a clutch shot from behind the arc to bring Wisconsin to within 53-51 with about two minutes left in the game, but on the afternoon, the junior was 3-for-11 from the field and finished with eight points, nine below his average.
Ryan admitted that Koenig may be pressing to score. “I think he feels he has to score ‘X’ number of points for us, but that’s not coming from me,” he said. “He doesn’t have to do everything for us. Maybe if he gives it up, he’ll get it back; play that kind of game.”
“I’ve always been a pass-first point guard,” said Koenig. “Deciding when to take over is still an on-going process for me. I need to be more patient coming off screens. I took a couple of jump shots today where I was off balance.”
Shooting 51 percent from the floor in its six-game winning streak, the Golden Eagles shot a touch better than that against the Badgers by making 24-of-46 shots for 52 percent. Without that accuracy, it could very well have been a long night for Marquette as the stat sheet showed Wisconsin taking 20 more shots.
“I didn’t realize that (the big shot discrepancy) until you just brought it up,” said Wojciechowski to the reporter who asked him to comment on the numbers. “We played at a very efficient rate and stuck to our script of attack.”
Duane Wilson, Marquette’s third leading scorer at 12 points per game, came off the bench to play 32 minutes and touch many parts of the box score by scoring nine points, collecting four rebounds, handing out four assists and making two steals.
“Duane Wilson is playing real well,” said Wojciechowski. “We wouldn’t have won without him. He made huge plays and showed great courage. I’m proud of his maturity.”
As they did after Marquette’s win over Arizona State on November 24th to win the Legends Classic, Fischer and his coach embraced as the two walked toward the tunnel leading to the Marquette locker room. The victory evened Wojciechowski’s coaching record at 21-21, but something in the way he hugged his junior center seemed to indicate this win meant a little more than the 20 that preceded it.
Marquette takes a week off for exams and resumes play on December 21 against Chicago State at home. Wisconsin returns to the Kohl Center court for its next game on December 15 against Texas A & M Corpus Christi.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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