Saturday, December 20, 2008

Marquette 94 Western Carolina 77: A Promising Step

Yes, it was against Western Carolina. Yes, it was against a team with inferior athletes. Yes, it was at home. Yes, they did let up a bit in the second half. But Friday night the Golden Eagles showed their fans, and more importantly themselves, that they were capable of a well rounded effort.

And guess what… they did it with a full roster (yes, celebratory high fives are acceptable).

Marquette dominated the Catamounts of Western Carolina Friday night, 94-77, in front of a crowd of 13,563 at the Bradley Center. MU was paced by the blazing hot hand of junior forward Lazar Hayward. Lazar was 8-13 from the field Friday night, and connected on all none of his free throw attempts. He was a one man wrecking crew. I don’t care how big or small someone is, if you can fill it up like that at this level, you can play. And Hayward is going to get his due if he keeps his torrid pace of scoring and rebounding up.

What was remarkable about this game though, was that the rest of the team did not stand by and watch Lazar put on a show. Jerel McNeal was unconscious from deep, knocking down five of the six threes he attempted, with 19 points and 5 assists. Wes Matthews did not even attempt a shot for the first seven minutes of the game, but he still found a way to finish with 18 points and 5 assists.

It gets better though.

Only one member of the Big 4 reached thirty minutes of playing time (Lazar). This in part was due to the host shooting the Golden Eagles put on the Catamounts, but there were also more bodies available… BIG ONES too. Bodies like 6’10”, 245 pound freshman Chris Otule, and 6’7” Joe Fulce. Both of which were surprisingly active when on the court. By no means were they the saviors off the bench that this team desperately needs, but they provided a glimmer of hope.

Otule is too robotic to be expected to contribute anything on the offensive end, but he is certainly capable of playing 10-12 minutes game. All that will be asked is snaring a few boards, blocking a shot or two, and using his five fouls to his advantage defensively. Fulce looks as if he can be a contributor. For a guy coming off a cracked knee cap, he ran and jumped well. At 15 minutes of playing time per game, Fulce could be the spark this team needs, but more importantly, a reliable body that can give Wes and Lazar a few extra minutes of rest.

It also would not hurt if Maurice Acker and Jimmy Butler gave similar performances to Friday night throughout the year. Maurice finished with 8 points, hitting two open three balls which he must do with consistency. Jimmy received some big minutes for the first time this year, putting up a solid 7 points and 6 rebounds. Those two alone can be a huge difference maker against talented opponents.

Finally, against Western Carolina, in the 11th game of the season, the entire roster stepped on the court and just played basketball. They got a superstar performance from one, consistent scoring outputs from two others, and great role play from the guys off the bench. Call me crazy, but that sounds like a recipe for success.

And the opportunity to test the new ingredients for first year head coach Buzz Williams will come on Monday, when they hot the road again for a date with N.C. State. The Wolfpack’s lone loss comes at the hands of Davidson, and will feature a stating lineup with no one shorter than 6’5”. The Big 4 will be asked to lead the way once again, but the story will be if the supporting cast can push them over the top for a big road win. The stage is set, and Big East play is right around the corner. What better time than now to put together a complete game?

Brian Henry
MUTV Remote Coordinating Producer
Marquette University Radio (WMUR) Sports Director

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