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Marquette takes down Pitt to move to 3-2 in the Big East

Marquette Tribune File Photo

On a day when Marquette celebrated its 95-year history, a strong defensive second half propelled the Golden Eagles (14-4, 3-2 Big East) over a struggling Pittsburgh (11-7, 0-5 Big East) squad 62-57.

Junior guard Junior Cadougan didn’t light up the scoreboard, but ran the offense with precision, dishing out nine assists —six in the second half — and adding six points, four rebounds and three steals to the stat line.

Senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom didn’t have the most efficient shooting game, hitting only 7-of-16 shots, but finished with a team high 18 points and three steals in 38 minutes of action.

Continuing to bring a spark off the bench, freshman guard Todd Mayo scored nine points and grabbed seven boards before fouling out late in the second half.

“I thought Todd Mayo was the difference in the game,” coach Buzz Williams said. “His defensive presence on 12 (Pitt senior guard Ashton Gibbs) for a freshman in his fifth game of Big East play to guard the preseason player of the year, I thought he did superb.”

Gibbs led all scorers with a career-high 29 points on 16 shots –including six in the last minute — but it was not enough for the Panthers.

The loss was Pittburgh’s sixth in a row, and fifth in conference play. It is the first time since 1999-2000 that the Panthers opened up Big East play with five straight defeats.

Marquette came out cold to start the game, posting only two points at the under-12 timeout. Pitt’s zone seemed to baffle the Golden Eagles, leading to five turnovers and only two field goals in the first eight minutes.

“The thing we’ve got to minimize is our turnovers. And some of our turnovers are too careless,” Williams said. “So if we can shave two or three off of that, that’d really help us.”

Although the shots were not falling, the Panthers let Marquette stick around by not scoring themselves. Pitt only led 29-25 at the half, after leading by as many as nine earlier in the game.

Williams and his staff ramped up the defensive pressure in the second half by applying a three-quarter court press and baffling the Panther ball handlers. Pitt committed six turnovers in a five minute span and swung the games momentum and ultimate outcome.

“We work on a variety of zone presses in the full-court, not necessarily always back to a zone in the half court,” Williams said. “We have to be careful without Chris (Otule) and with Davante. Anytime the floor gets lengthened that’s not going to go into Davante’s favor.”

Down 41-36 with 12:28 to go, Marquette turned defense into offense and went on a 13-0 run to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. All four field goals during the run were lay-ins. Three of those four came directly off of turnovers.

“What we can’t have happen, is that we’re waiting on our offense to dictate our defense. We can’t become offensive sensitive, and I don’t necessarily always use the word ‘sensitive’ with our team,” Williams said. “But we can’t be sensitive offensively, and that determines what we do defensively. We have to be the same defensively and see if that will generate some offensive transition baskets.”

Up nine with 1:56 to play after back-to-back Johnson-Odom treys, it appeared Marquette had the game all wrapped up, but Gibbs had other ideas. He hit three free-throws and fouled out Mayo in one possession. He followed that with a contested three from the corner to make it a one possession game.

Jae Crowder missed a desperation three as the shot clock was winding down and it appeared as if Pitt would have a chance to tie it but sophomore forward Davante Gardner snagged the rebound over two Pitt defenders with 20 seconds left. After getting fouled, Gardner hit both his free throws to stretch the lead to five to put the game on ice.

The win over Pitt was Marquette’s fourth in five games at the Bradley Center and seventh all time. The Golden Eagles attention will now shift to Louisville, who comes to Milwaukee on Monday after having beaten DePaul Saturday afternoon.

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