For the second time in as many games, Marquette grinded out a slow-paced, low-scoring matchup and came out victorious, defeating Savannah State 71-51 Saturday afternoon at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Vander Blue finished with 14 points to lead the Golden Eagles, Junior Cadougan added 11 of his own, while Steve Taylor, Jr. posted a career-high 10 points by halftime to help Marquette became the 43rd program in NCAA history to win 1500 games.
A 16-3 run spanning the end of the first half and into the second half opened up Marquette’s lead after a sluggish first half that saw six lead changes. Savannah State did not score in the second half until the 12:12 mark, with Marquette pulling ahead by 19 by that point.
The Tigers, picked in the preseason to win the MEAC, responded with a 12-3 run thanks to their top-30 defense by creating turnovers, and pulled within eight by the 8:20 mark. But just as he did last week against the Badgers, Junior Cadougan responded with a three-point play to extend the lead back out to 11. That began a 14-2 run that pushed the lead to 20 inside six minutes to play.
It was a tale of two halves for the Marquette defense. While allowing just 26 points in the first half, the slow-paced Tigers made eight layups on 11 field goals, and shot nearly 48 percent from the field. Entering Saturday’s contest, they were making less than 40 percent of their shots as a team.
But the defense locked down in the second half. The Tigers made just 9-of-24 shots after halftime, including the nine-minute almost 8-minute dry spell to open the half. Only Juan Anderson committed more than two personal fouls, and the Tigers shot just 16 free throws to Marquette’s 32 attempts.
Rashad Hassan, the MEAC preseason Player of the Year, scored 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half for the Tigers but was limited to eight minutes after picking up his three fouls. He finished with 14 points in the loss. Point guard Preston Blackman hit two 3-pointers and handed out seven assists but committed seven turnovers, with forward Louis Arnold double-doubling (10 points, 11 rebounds).
The Marquette offense started sluggish, but were helped out by some timely free throw shooting. After making 1-of-9 free throws in the first half last week against Wisconsin, Marquette made 12-of-14 freebies by intermission, helping extend the lead to 34-26.
Steve Taylor, who played a combined 12 minutes the last two games, was the lone bright spot offensively in the first half. The freshman had scored a career-high 10 points by halftime, and also grabbed three offensive rebounds. Davante Gardner played just six minutes in the first half, perhaps due to Taylor’s improved play.
Gardner finished with 14 points in 16 minutes. Marquette scored 40 points in the paint, helped out by Jyles Smith’s foul trouble. One of the top shot blockers in the country, Smith played 7 minutes while collecting four fouls. He did not block a shot for the first time all season.
Trent Lockett also came alive, scoring nine points on 4-of-9 shooting. It was his highest scoring output since the Mississippi State game in Maui (13 points).He connected on a 3-pointer and another jumper, showing life after quiet performances the last two games. His one turnover came on the heels of seven giveaways last week against Wisconsin.