Marquette scored 95 points and shot over 56 percent from the field on Saturday, but it was an impressive span of defensive play that jumpstarted the offense and set the tone in its 17-point win over Cincinnati.
It was another uninspiring start for the Golden Eagles’ defense, which allowed Cincinnati 12 points in the paint and three 3-pointers through 10 minutes, giving the Bearcats an early 29-24 lead.
It was then that Buzz Williams applied a full court trap, pressure Marquette has shown often lately, that confused the usually sure-handed Cincinnati back court and shifted the momentum in Marquette’s favor.
Steals from Jae Crowder (twice), Darius Johnson-Odom and Jamil Wilson on five straight possessions all led to points and were part of a 10-0 Marquette run, giving the Golden Eagles a lead they would not surrender the rest of the afternoon.
Marquette would go on to score 25 points on 14 Cincinnati turnovers and 31 fast break points, but maybe more important than the quick scoring output was the tone it set for the rest of the game.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams said Marquette’s pressure initially was to keep the Cincinnati offense extended and out of the paint.
“As much as it shook them, it kind of revitalized us,” coach Buzz Williams said. “And within that stuff we’re doing, we’re not trying to create turnovers in the back court as much as we are trying to keep their team as high and wide on the court as possible.”
Darius Johnson-Odom, who had two of Marquette’s 11 steals, said keeping the Bearcats’ offense from setting up was a focus for the Golden Eagles.
“We pride ourselves on defense, trying to keep teams out of the paint is not an easy task,” Johnson-Odom said. “(Cincinnati) has great guards so it’s hard for teams to keep them out of the paint. But when you force turnovers, that definitely is an advantage for us.”
But while the original plan was to pressure Cincinnati to throw off its half court sets, Marquette’s speed and tenacious defense surprised the Bearcats, leading to the turnovers.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was confused as to how his team would not expect Marquette’s pressure, and was disappointed by his team’s response to it.
“When they stopped giving us layups, they turned up the heat and we didn’t take care of the basketball,” Cronin said. “They do that to everyone.”
Part of what has allowed Marquette to play its frantic full court trap in situations has been the injury to sophomore forward Davante Gardner.
Marquette certainly misses Gardner’s interior presence and extra body in the rotation, but the Golden Eagles are playing at a faster pace without him and have scored 89 and 95 points the past two games.
“I think when we press full court that’s our greatest aspect,” sophomore Jamail Jones said. “When we trap and get out in transition we are one of, if not, the fastest teams in the country.”
Saturday afternoon it was Marquette’s stingy defense that allowed the offense to play at such a quick pace. The full court press ignited the offense, something Williams said is necessary for the Golden Eagles.
“Our defense does create offense when we’re flowing pretty good,” Williams said. “We can’t win any other way than our defense helping our offense. If we’re offensive-sensitive, we’re going to lose. Within how we play, it’s predicated on both sides of the ball.”