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Defense propels opening night blowout

Redshirt junior center Chris Otule said Marquette needs to do a better job forming a "triangle" when it contends for a rebound. / Tribune file photo

By Mark Strotman

It was a mixed bag of emotions and results defensively for coach Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles Friday night in their 91-37 win over Mount St. Mary’s.

The good?

Marquette forced the Mountaineers (0-1) into 29 turnovers which led to 45 points. It also held the Mountaineers to just 37 points on 29.1 percent shooting, including 2-of-18 (11.1 percent) from beyond the arc. There was constant ball pressure on guards and the Golden Eagles’ 19 steals were a single-game record at the Bradley Center.

The bad?

Marquette allowed 16 offensive rebounds to a Mount St. Mary’s team with two players over 6-foot-7.

In the Golden Eagles’ defense, Williams was happy with the team’s progression on team defense.

“Giving up 16 offensive rebounds is not very good at all,” Williams said. “But defensively, from a priority standpoint, where we spent most of our time, I thought in a lot of ways some of that came to life.”

The Golden Eagles overpowered the undermanned Mountaineers, who were playing without three starters and had only six scholarship players available for the contest. Much of the offense, which looked to be in mid-season form, was set up by turnovers, as the Golden Eagles finished with 41 fast-break points.

“To force a team into 29 turnovers and to hold them to the field goal percentage we did, all of those things are very positive,” Williams said.

Redshirt junior center Chris Otule, who finished with five rebounds and three blocks, said turnovers have been a point of emphasis in practice and is the one stat the team looks at after games.

“We try to look at turnovers forced from the other team, because we know that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing when we force that many turnovers,” Otule said. “It’s defensive principles that we do every day in order for us to get turnovers forced from the other team.”

Defensively, Williams’ group was stout when it needed to be, finishing with 10 “turkeys,” defined as three consecutive defensive stops in a row. The team’s goal each game is to finish with seven turkeys.

Sophomore guard Vander Blue and senior forward Jae Crowder each finished with four steals apiece, while senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom added three of his own in the win.

For as good as the defense was as a whole, however, the number of offensive rebounds allowed will linger until Monday’s matchup against Norfolk State.

The Golden Eagles out-rebounded the Mountaineers by only three (36-33) allowing 6-foot-7 forward Danny Thompson to grab seven offensive rebounds in the process.

Williams pulled all five starters just over two minutes into the game, citing two offensive rebounds from 6-foot-2 guard Julian Norfleet, who finished with five rebounds.  Four minutes later, Williams again subbed all five players out after they allowed two more offensive rebounds.

“It was up and down,” Otule said of the team’s performance. “There were times when we relaxed a little bit.”

Those times were evident on the weak side, where Marquette failed to fill gaps once a shot went up from the strong side.

“I don’t think people were on the weak side board a lot,” Otule said. “Buzz tells us to make a triangle whenever the ball’s rebounded. One person needs to get on the strong side, weak side, and one guy gets in front of the rim, and we weren’t doing a good job of that. And we have to improve on that if we want to keep the teams with lower offensive rebounds.”

Williams attributed some of the cause for the large number of offensive rebounds on the fact that guards were putting constant pressure on the Mount St. Mary’s guards, which in turn may have put them out of position when a shot went up on the opposite side of the floor.

“When you put so much pressure on the ball and you’re not allowing guys to throw it around where they want to throw it, you extend your defense,” Willisma said. “And so that typically trends towards long shots, which equal long rebounds, and we didn’t do a great job on the weak side. So we’ve got to continue to work on that.”

Back court pressure from Marquette guards resulted in long shots from the Mountaineers, and weak side defenders standing at the mid-line, honoring potential drives from guards,  failed to get back on the weak side offensive players crashed the glass.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of work,” Williams said of having to cover the entire weak side. “But it’s a lot of work to win.”

The defense is improving, but Williams said it will continue to be a point of focus as the team looks to improve on its 14th ranked defense in the Big East a year ago.

“We’ve spent all of our time, to an extent, on defensive-related principles, defensive scoring-type drills in practice in hopes that that shores up what has been our weakness,” Williams said. “And (we’re) willing to give up some of our offensive prowess in hopes that our defensive numbers get back to where they should be in order to compete. To compete to win, not to beat Mount St. Mary’s.”

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