When Junior Cadougan met Butler guard Rotnei Clarke at midcourt on the Bulldogs’ first possession Monday afternoon, he forced him into a 5-second violation in what should have set the tone for Marquette’s defense.
And through 20 minutes, it looked as though it was up to the task.
But foul trouble, a lack of rebounding and hustle plays cost Marquette late, and while the ultimate clincher — a 30-foot, one-handed 3-pointer from Rotnei Clarke at the buzzer — couldn’t have been defended better, it was the Golden Eagles’ defense that cost them down the stretch in their 72-71 loss.
Beginning at the 8:03 mark of the second half, when Khyle Marshall took an Andrew Smith pass and dunked to cut Marquette’s lead to two, 51-49, Butler scored at least one point on 12 of its final 13 possessions.
The Bulldogs made 10 of their last 12 shots, and on the two they missed grabbed offensive rebounds on both. That, along with four free throw makes, resulted in 25 points in the final eight minutes, culminating in Clarke’s ridiculous buzzer beater that sealed the loss for Marquette.
And it’s no surprise that for the final eight-minute stretch, Marquette dealt with severe foul trouble; Juan Anderson, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner all had foul fouls apiece by then, with Trent Lockett eventually fouling out, too, and Williams was forced to go deep into his bench, going as far as having Jake Thomas on the court in crunch time.
And of the 10 field goals Butler made down the stretch, nine of those came inside the paint. The first four came while Jamil Wilson sat on the bench with four fouls, and later Williams opted to go with Davante Gardner and Steve Taylor, Jr. at center instead of Chris Otule.
Lockett, for as well as he played Marquette’s first two games on the perimeter, was abused trying to guard Khyle Marshall late. Jamil Wilson had the assignment first, but Lockett took over when Wilson went to the bench with his fourth foul right as the Bulldogs’ eight-minute run began. With Lockett on Marshall, Marshall scored six point on 3-of-3 shooting in the paint. When Williams tried to slow down Marshall by putting Otule on him for one possession, he dribbled right by the 6-foot-11 center for a lay-up.
When Wilson eventually did return at the 4:16 mark, center Andrew Smith did his damage on the inside against Taylor and Gardner.
The defense shut down and couldn’t make a stop, but Marquette was in it late. The Golden Eagles’ offense, led by a superb performance from junior Vander Blue, went point-for-point most of the way. They took leads on Blue’s 3-pointer and extended it on his bucket-and-foul, and Jake Thomas made the play of his short Marquette career on an offensive rebound putback and free throw.
But following Thomas’ right-place-right-time play to give Marquette a lead, it had a chance to seal the game with one more defensive stop. That’s when Brad Stevens drew up a play to get Clarke open on the left wing.
Out of a timeout with 13 seconds remaining, Williams opted to leave Taylor and Jamil Wilson in the game, instead of substituting Juan Anderson (six rebounds) and/or Otule (for his height) for the final defensive stand.
In the most crucial of times, Taylor had a freshman moment, watching Clarke’s missed attempt instead of looking to box out his man, Erik Fromm, who grabbed the offensive rebound and laid it in to make it a one-point game, 70-69.
It’s clear Butler was told to crash the glass for a desperation offensive rebound to save the possession (and the game), but only Derrick Wilson on the left baseline attempted to box out his player. Taylor watched, and Fromm (directly to Taylor’s right) made the layup that set up Clarke’s shot.
Marquette’s offense hurt itself in the first half, but that became a moot point when it couldn’t get a stop on the defensive end late. In a game won by a single point at the buzzer, it’s true (albeit easy in hindsight) to say that just one stop down that stretch would have won the game.
It’s also worth noting that Marquette did not turn Butler over one time in the second half. No chances to get the break going, no chances to stop the Bulldogs’ offense and put together its own offensive stretch to extend the lead.
Foul trouble made substitutions difficult for Williams, and it became even tougher when Lockett exited the game at the 1:26 mark. It was an odd move not to see Anderson come back in late, especially when Marquette couldn’t get a stop in the paint. Perhaps he was saving him for a possible overtime situation, or didn’t think he could give what Taylor or Thomas could offensively.
Those players with four fouls late seemed to be playing more timid, which could be a reason Williams decided to play Taylor (zero fouls) in the closing minutes.
Substitution questioning aside, Marquette would have been lucky to escape with a win given its performance in the final eight minutes. It’s easier to quantify stats on offense and see struggles there, but foul troubles really limited both who and how Marquette played inside.
It didn’t directly result in Marquette’s loss — that would go to a prayer of a one-handed 3-pointer form Clarke — but it didn’t help that the defense, which looked great through 32 minutes, lost its intensity and failed to make a stop when all it really needed was one.