Five straight seasons Marquette has lost its leading scorer from the previous year, and in four of those campaigns the Golden Eagles have survived such departures because of key contributors staying consistent and a balanced supporting cast filling in the holes.
Saturday afternoon against No. 10 Ohio State, Marquette had none of that.
In the worst offensive performance in six seasons under Williams, the Golden Eagles were held to 19.8 percent percent shooting and shot 1-of-18 from beyond the arc in an embarrassing 52-35 loss at home to the Buckeyes.
The 35 points were the fewest Marquette had scored at home since 1948, and the ugly shooting performance was the Golden Eagles’ worst mark since 1996.
Not what Williams expected in the Golden Eagles’ first test of the season.
“I think the ball was too stagnant. We never were able to create angles off penetration,” Williams said after the game. “It was more station-to-station passing, and we never were able to attack.”
The problems began, though were not limited to, a backcourt that was clearly over-matched by one of the better defensive guard tandems in the country. Derrick Wilson, who hasn’t shown the burst or aggressiveness some expected he would after taking over for Junior Cadougan, was slow in both his passes and drives to the basket, leaving the offense to initiate through 1-on-1 drives which the Buckeyes were more than able to slow down.
And when Williams substituted in Todd Mayo, Wilson’s inability to get to the lane allowed Ohio State head coach Thad Matta to leave reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Craft to guard Marquette’s only true outside threat.
Williams wouldn’t put all the blame on just Wilson or the backcourt, but that’s where the woes began.
“I think it’s everybody,” Williams said. “If you look at the guys that played on the perimeter for us, you can’t just put it all on Derrick.”
“Our biggest fear going into the game was the post,” Matta said, “Just them getting in there. I think that was probably the best thing we did, was they knew collectively all five guys had to guard the post. Collectively, our guys used our length, we used our quickness and did a good job with it.”
Through two games, Wilson hadn’t filled up the box score but helped initiate the offense. He said during the offseason that he’d need to be more of a scorer and penetrator. And with the offense sputtering Wilson was unable to make good on his goals. There’s something to be said for Ohio State’s defense, which has ranked in the top-30 in efficiency the last three seasons, but this went deeper.
The Golden Eagles have struggled mightily, like last season, from beyond the arc. In three games the Golden Eagles are 10-of-49 (20.4 percent) from deep, and with Mayo struggling – he went 3-of-15 from the field – and freshman Jajuan Johnson not ready to see court time, the Buckeyes were allowed to pack their defense inside where the true threats were.
Not that they were much better.
Wilson was limited to eight minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls, but in those minutes the redshirt senior attempted just three field goals – all misses – and didn’t record a rebound, assist steal or block. Credit the Buckeyes’ plethora of athletic wings and stout defense, but Wilson rarely called for the ball and, when he did, Derrick Wilson failed to find him in the post. Wilson finished 1-of-9 from the field with three points and four rebounds.
In the first half Davante Gardner — the only Golden Eagles in double-digits (10 points) — was benched after lofting a 3-pointer from the top of the arc early in the shot clock. And in a span of 70 seconds, Derrick Wilson took a 3-pointer and long jumper off the dribble before the ball had entered the paint. On the second, Ohio State corralled the rebound and raced the length of the floor for a basket to extend the lead to eight, 31-23, early in the second half, before its closing run.
Midway through the second half, Williams even opted to play without a true point guard – Todd Mayo and Jake Thomas manned the backcourt – to jump start the offense. Like most things Saturday afternoon, that didn’t work, either.
At one point in the second half, Marquette went nearly six minutes without a point, stopped only by two Jake Thomas free throws that came as the result of an off-the-ball foul in the bonus.
There were missed layups from Juan Anderson and Mayo. Jamil Wilson air-balled a floater and three times Marquette turned the ball over on an inbounds with no one but the passer touching the ball.
To their credit, the Golden Eagles played suffocating defense on the Buckeyes most of the afternoon. Matta’s bunch shot just 42 percent from the field and turned the ball over 11 times. And perhaps Williams, knowing his offense is lacking punch, will need to stress the defensive end to remain in close games late.
It’s hard to imagine that this kind of performance came after the Golden Eagles dropped 114 points on pitiful Grambling State, so it’s safe to say they fit somewhere in between Tuesday’s and today’s performances.
Still, Williams has plenty of questions to figure out before the team’s next test. If he can’t rely on Jajuan Johnson or Juan Anderson over Jake Thomas, it will put more pressure on Mayo to be a volume shooter, a risky proposition.
And if John Dawson can’t provide minutes while Duane Wilson is out, Williams will be forced to use Derrick Wilson near 35 minutes a night – he played 38 against the Buckeyes.
Williams is among one of the best in the country at making sure his team bounces back from ugly performances, and one of his annual sayings is that he’ll know more about his team at Christmas than he will at Thanksgiving.
That’s certainly the case after this afternoon’s showing.