Milwaukee, WI – The Marquette Golden Eagles have struggled to play from ahead in a number of games this first month of the season, and on Tuesday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, that inability to maintain and grow a lead almost cost them a victory.
Falling behind 47-28 after the first 20 minutes of play, a rejuvenated Fresno State team charged back in the second half to make it a one-possession game at 80-78 with less than a minute left to play only to see Marquette come up big at the free throw line in the game’s closing minutes to escape with an 84-81 win.
“Anytime in a close game you’re able to win, it’s a good thing,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “It’s always better to learn from a win.”
“It think this is a good learning game for us,” added Marquette senior center Luke Fischer, second on the Marquette scoring list with 18 points. “It was a tough situation at the end, but it will be a situation we’ll be in a lot this year playing as many ranked teams as we will, especially when the conference season starts.”
Marquette freshmen Sam Hauser and Marcus Howard, who finished with 19 and ten points, respectively, combined to make 9-of-12 free throws on the night, a number of them in the last two minutes of the game to help salt away the victory. “Our two freshmen have really delivered for us,” said Wojciechowski. “What they’ve been able to do is very impressive. You can’t simulate pressure free throws in practice.”
Marquette jumped out to its big first half lead following a familiar formula it has drawn up for itself this season of knocking down shots from distance, converting at the free throw line and turning over its opponent. The Golden Eagles went into halftime shooting 55 percent from behind the three-point arc, making ninety percent of their free throws and forcing ten Fresno State turnovers.
Hauser and Howard led Marquette’s three-point attack in the first half with two long distance makes each. Hauser, a 6-7 forward with a high release as part of a textbook jump shot, gets his looks from behind the arc mostly either out of pick-and-pop action or as a weak side spacer. Howard is a feverish point guard who takes advantage of cushion defenses in half court offenses and scrambling defenses in transition to get his long range shot opportunities.
Hauser and Howard each entered the game shooting 50 percent from behind the three-point arc, good enough for a tie for fourth among Big East long range shooters. While Howard did not attempt a three-point shot in the second half, Hauser connected on 2-of-3 long distance attempts after intermission with both of his makes playing instrumental roles in keeping the Fresno State rally at bay.
“Sam’s a great shooter,” said Fischer. “It’s so much fun to play with him. They (opponent defenses) have to respect his outside shot and that opens up space for me.”
Starting the game with the Big East’s second best field goal percentage of .746, Fischer inched closer to the top spot in the league by making 8-of-9 shots from the field against the Bulldogs. He demonstrated his ability to finish with both hands by connecting on short jump hook shots with his left and right hands within the first four minutes of the game. Looking lighter than last season and getting to his spots quicker, Fischer also followed up two teammates’ misses with putback dunks. He flashed a developing pick-and-roll game in the second half by rolling out of a high screen to receive a pass on the move and convert an uncontested shot at the rim.
Fischer, third in the Big East with 2.5 offensive rebounds per game, said he is concentrating more this season on hitting the offensive glass. “I’m working for earlier position and trying to get to the ball at its highest point,” he explained.
The Achilles Heel to Fischer’s game since he first donned a Marquette uniform after transferring from a one-semester stay at Indiana University has been foul trouble. He committed his first foul before either team scored its first point on Tuesday night, but mostly stayed clear of referees’ whistles until getting called for his third and fourth fouls within a minute’s play with about six minutes left in the game. After a short break on the bench, Fischer returned to the court and finished the game without picking up his fifth foul.
“It’s hard for everyone,” said Fischer about staying out of foul trouble. “Hand checks are pretty much a foul every time. It seems like you body somebody up and it’s going to be a foul. You just have to play through that type of stuff. You can’t do anything about it and the refs aren’t going to change the call.”
Marquette got key contributions from senior starter Jujuan Johnson and junior reserve Andrew Rowsey. Johnson, a wing, loves to attack the basket off the dribble to his right. When Fresno State defenders denied penetration, Johnson shot a pull-up jumper from mid-range with good accuracy. He made 6-of-12 shots overall in scoring 12 points while also leading Marquette with eight rebounds.
Rowsey needed only two shots to score his ten points as he connected on both his shots from behind the three-point arc and made all his four free throws. A transfer from North Carolina-Asheville, Rowsey has averaged over 12 points a game in Marquette’s last three games, all wins. With a quick trigger, high-arching shot and range behind the NBA three-point stripe, Rowsey made 38 percent of his three-point shots in 2014-15, his last season at NC-Asheville. In Marquette’s last three games, Rowsey has shot the three-ball at a 62 percent clip making 8-of-13 shots.
Junior Terrell Carter II led Fresno State with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Playing off the bench, Carter used his 6-10, 290 pound body to move Marquette defenders and create space for himself deep in the paint. He shot with a soft touch and most of his four misses worked their way around the rim before falling gently off. Carter complimented starting big Bryson Williams who was hot early and scored ten points on 5-of-6 shooting.
Junior Jahmel Taylor, a transfer from Washington, did most of the Fresno State damage from the outside needing only five shots to score 16 points and draining all of his four shots from behind the three-point arc, many of them launched deep behind the stripe.
“Their big guys gave them a lift,” said Wojciechowski. “Their centers shot 15 for 20 from the field for 31 points and that’s not something they’ve done (this season.) They also have not been a good shooting team and they shot the lights out (53 percent.) You’ve got to give them credit.”
The state of Wisconsin will take a collective one-day break from all things Green Bay Packers football this Saturday, December 10 to focus on the annual Wisconsin-Marquette game, scheduled this year for the Bradley Center. Wisconsin will be trying to avenge last year’s 57-55 loss to Marquette.
“They (Wisconsin) have had the spotlight for the last couple of years,” admitted Fischer. “They’re in the national headlines and all that stuff. That’s a position we want to be in. There’s no better way to get in that position than to beat those guys and take it from them. We’re excited for this opportunity.”
“They’re one of the best teams in the country,” said Wojciechowski in reference to the Badgers. “We’ll have to be at our very best to beat them.”
Fresno State also returns to action on December 10 when it hosts Cal Poly.
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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