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Golden Eagles fouled out of Sweet 16

This story was originally published on FoxSports.com.

A combination of foul trouble, unlucky bounces and stifling defense held Marquette to its worst shooting performance of the season in its 68-58 Sweet 16 loss to Florida on Thursday.

The undermanned Golden Eagles essentially were playing with a seven-man rotation, including a hobbled Davante Gardner, against the Gators. They struggled to adapt when two key starters, forward Jae Crowder and point guard Junior Cadougan, were hit with early foul trouble.

Entering Thursday’s game, Cadougan had averaged a personal foul every 14.2 minutes through 33 games. Against the Gators, he committed four fouls in 14 minutes. Not only did that limit his minutes, but it also changed the way he played. Cadougan committed three turnovers, including an offensive foul, and missed all five of his field goal attempts and two free throws.

“When Junior’s out of whack, it takes him a little while to swing back into a groove and it interrupts our team,” sophomore forward Jamil Wilson said. “But we have to find a way to get past that eventually, and that can’t completely stop our team from functioning on the court.”

Thursday night, it did.

In the 19 minutes Cadougan sat on the bench, Marquette shot 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) as a team and committed four of its nine turnovers. With the junior point guard in the game, the Golden Eagles were slightly better, making 15 of 44 shots.

Cadougan’s rare foul trouble also impacted the way Buzz Williams used Crowder in the first half. The Big East Player of the Year picked up his second foul midway through the half and Williams was reluctant to keep him in, as he has done in the past, because Cadougan had already picked up two fouls. Five minutes after Crowder’s second foul, Cadougan was called for his third personal.

“It’s dangerous to play Jae where he gets his third foul, particularly if Junior already has his third foul,” Williams said. “You can’t do that with two key guys.”

Crowder was limited to six points and one rebound in 12 first-half minutes, and after he took a seat for the last seven minutes of the first half, the Golden Eagles missed 11 of their final 14 shots. The Gators took a 36-30 lead into halftime, which seemed like an even larger margin because of Marquette’s lack of offensive rhythm.

Vander Blue and the Marquette offense struggled Thursday night, making a season-low 30.8 percent of its field goals in the loss. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Crowder played the entire second half but never found his usually reliable jump shot and was the victim of more than a few unfriendly bounces around the rim. Crowder said the close misses became frustrating for the Marquette offense, which made it even more difficult to find a groove.

“Knowing that, night in and night out, I usually hit those shots and Darius (Johnson-Odom) usually hits those shots, that helps us get into a groove,” Crowder said. “We never got into that groove offensively.”

Johnson-Odom and Crowder, who had made over 47 percent of their shots entering Thursday, shot a combined 10-of-30 from the field and missed 11 of their 14 3-point attempts. They scored half of Marquette’s 58 points.

Williams denounced bad bounces or luck as the reason for Marquette’s offensive struggles.
Instead, he applauded the aggressive Gators defense for holding the highest-scoring team in the Big East to its lowest point total in almost three months.

“The easiest thing to say is, ‘Well, we just missed shots that we typically take,” Williams said. “That wasn’t what happened. They were outstanding, and credit goes to their defensive game plan, relative to what we were trying to do defensively.”

Cadougan said the Gators did not do anything defensively Marquette hadn’t seen. But Billy Donovan’s group made paint points difficult and excelled in transition defense, limiting the Marquette to six fast-break points. The Golden Eagles settled for jump shots in an attempt to make up ground as the Gators increased the lead to double digits late in the second half.

“If I could do it all over again, I just wish we could have got to the rim more and stopped shooting forced shots,” freshman Todd Mayo said. “We were trying to go for the big shot when it wasn’t falling.”

The Golden Eagles felt the harshness of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night, learning that one bad stretch of play and careless fouls can send a team home in an instant.

“When you’re playing against a team as good as Florida, and you’re playing without your key guys,” Williams said. “It’s hard for that rhythm to be established.”

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