Marquette head coach Buzz Williams isn’t sure why his team is having trouble in the early portion of games. If he did, he would have told them by now.
The Golden Eagles won all three games at home over the past six days to move to 4-2 in Big East play, but they didn’t do themselves any favors by trailing early in each of the three contests.
Against St. John’s, Marquette trailed 17-12 at the 10:24 mark of the first half.
Against Pittsburgh, Marquette trailed 19-10 at the 9:44 mark of the first half.
Against Louisville, Marquette trailed 18-2 at the 13:49 mark of the first half.
“I like our chances when we play ‘us’,” Williams said after Marquette’s 73-64 win over Louisville. “I can’t figure out and I don’t have a solution for why we don’t do that at the start. So it’s 18-2 and then we outscore them 72-45. That’s pretty impressive. If the games were 33 minutes we’d be really good. We just have to figure out how to get those seven minutes being us.”
Williams said that, prior to the Louisville game, preparation was excellent. The team had its best shoot around since the Wisconsin game, its best walk-through the night before since Villanova and its best practice of the month on Friday.
Still, the Golden Eagles were able to weather the storm in all three contests. Following the slow starts, they outscored their opponents 190-133 and picked up wins in each.
Senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom hinted that the Golden Eagles’ problem has stemmed from the inability to make stops early in games.
“I don’t think it’s a trend we want to continue going forward. Nobody has an answer for that,” he said after the Louisville game. “We have to get stops. We have plenty of time to rally back, so we weren’t too worried about time. We just had to get stops and we had to slow them down.”
Regardless of opponent, it’s near impossible to hold a team down for 40 minutes in the Big East. It just so happens that, recently, teams have been able to make their run at the beginning of games against Marquette.
“We’ll figure it out,” Williams said. “And I really like us when we’re ‘us’, and I think when we’re ‘us’ we’re pretty good, and when we’re not ‘us’ we’re pretty bad.
“So I don’t know how many teams are playing 40 minutes of ‘them.’ You could say Syracuse, but it’s not as though every possession we’re going to be perfect. But I think we could reduce the stress and pressure on us when we don’t play as many consecutive possessions of not doing what we need to do,” he added.
One of the reasons for the slow starts has been Marquette’s on-the-go transition to a style of play without 6-foot-11 center Chris Otule. The Golden Eagles were forced to play a smaller, faster brand of basketball since his season-ending knee injury and Williams said the team is continuing to adapt.
“I think we’re better,” Williams said. “I think with each passing day we feel more and more comfortable. Obviously [Chris] is not coming back but I do think we’re continuing to figure that out. I think we continue to adjust in a positive way offensively and in what Jamil has given us defensively, we’re figuring that out as well.”
Johnson-Odom agreed, saying the team finally has adjusted to life without Otule.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Davante has been watching extra film, trying to learn what Chris did, to help himself. Jamil’s very atheltic. He can play multiple spots and does a lot of things for us and I think when he’s engaged it helps everybody.”
While the slow starts are a concern, what’s more telling is Marquette’s ability to come together as a group and battle back against early deficits.
“The first seven minutes of the game obviously is not indicative of how we play or how we practice or how we work,” Williams said after Monday’s win. “But I think from that point forward that’s much more ‘us’ and I think that gives us our best chance for success.”