Tue. Final: Marquette 81, Central Mich. 67
By Todd Welter
Next game: Saturday, December 6 vs. Wisconsin
No. 25 Marquette has a date with one of its biggest rivals Saturday night, but first the Golden Eagles had to take care of business against Central Michigan.
"Wins are hard to come by regardless of who you are playing," Marquette senior guard Dominic James said. "You got to to go out there with the right mindset."
Marquette had the right mindset by not overlooking the Chippewas. It still was not a game to write home about by any means. The highlights of Marquette's 81-67 win over Central Michigan were two big second half runs, a perfect night from the free throw line by Wesley Matthews, and a solid night from James. Low lights were too many turnovers, allowing too many offensive rebounds, and inconsistent shooting.
"We will be ready for Saturday," James said. "There is going to be a lot of hype surrounding it."
There will be more than just bragging rights at stake.
"We really need this win with the schedule that we have coming up," James added. "This is one of those games that looks good on your [NCAA Tournament] resume. I know it's early to start talking about that but as seniors and mature guys we know what is at stake."
Just because the Badgers are not ranked in the AP Top 25 and did not have as much preseason hype as Marquette did, the Golden Eagles will not take their long time rival lightly.
"You have to be incredibly, mentally tough to play Wisconsin because they are not going to beat themselves," Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. "We will have to be at our absolute best."
While everyone who has a college basketball rooting interest in this state has an eye towards Saturday night, Marquette still had to make sure it did not go into Saturday's matchup with two straight losses. The scary part was it seemed like the cold shooting touch that doomed Marquette in last Saturday's loss to Dayton in Chicago, traveled north. Marquette's shooting started off frigid with a 37% shooting clip in the first half. The shooting percentage heated up to 54% in the second half for a respectable 45% total.
Despite the inconsistent shooting, the Golden Eagles got a balanced scoring attack from their four biggest offensive weapons. Matthews scored a team-high 18 points despite going 4-11 from the field. He earned most of his points from the free throw line as he made all 10 of his free throws. James scored 15 points along with seven rebounds and five assists. Lazar Hayward and Jerel McNeal each scored 14. Marquette also got plenty of looks unguarded with 38 free throw attempts in which Marquette shot 82% from the line. Not bad for a team that admits it does not waste practice time shooting free throws.
"My thought was 'Do you practice riding your bike?' those kids have grown up playing ball their whole life," Williams explained. "You step to the line and make free throws. Just like when you ride a bike, it doesn't matter how long it's been since you have ridden a bike, but your mind needs to be ready to make a free throw. Step to the line and shoot to make and be mentally tough enough to make them."
Unlike the Dayton loss, when the Golden Eagles allowed the Flyers to shoot 53%, Marquette was able to hold the Chippewas shooting stroke in check. Marquette's defense held the Chippewas to just 40% from the field and 16% from three-point range. Central Michigan's offensive bright spots came from Jacolby Hardiman's 20 points on 8-12 shooting and Jeremy Allen's 19 points. 18 offensive rebounds and 18 Marquette turnovers could be considered moral victories for the Chippewas.
Marquette forced 11 first half turnovers to help build a 36-27 lead heading into halftime. James sparked an 11-0 run to start the second half with a highlight layup and the bonus free throw with 17:48 left. That run finished with Marquette ahead by 18 as it held Central Michigan scoreless for nearly four minutes in the second half's early happenings.
Central Michigan whittled the lead down to eight with an 18-8 run midway through the half. Eight points would be the closest the Chippewas would get. Marquette went on an 11-2 run highlighted by back-to-back threes by Maurice Acker and Lazar Hayward. James made a layup with 6:36 left that put Marquette ahead by 20 and pretty much wrapped up Marquette's (6-1) sixth win of the season.