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Interior trouble allows Connaughton (another) career night

Pat Connaughton crushed Marquette from beyond the arc Thursday night. (USA Today)

Pat Connaughton crushed Marquette from beyond the arc on Thursday. (USA Today)

“He’s the only guy knocking down 3’s, which means you can not leave him.”

“He’s one of those guys that I don’t think you leave at all. Especially a guy coming off a game in which he hit six 3’s.”

“He’s the first guy you have to find.”

“Would you give help off of that on Connaughton?”

Four different times Thursday night Notre Dame sophomore Pat Connaughton hit a 3-pointer and Jay Bilas, working the game with Sean McDonough and Bill Raftery, questioned why Marquette continued to help on drives and leave the sharpshooter open from long range. Connaughton wound up hitting on six 3-pointers in the Irish’s 73-65 win over Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.

Within Thursdy night’s debacle, which ended Marquette’s second straight double-bye position in the tournament without a win, was a significant similarity to last year’s matchup between these two teams, when Connaughton made 5-of-8 3-pointers and scored a then-career-high 23 points in a Notre Dame win.

In that game Marquette was without its two centers, Chris Otule (torn ACL) and Davante Gardner (knee sprain). The Golden Eagles were forced to go with Jamil Wilson at “center” and Jae Crowder at “power forward,” rotating in rarely-used sophomore Jamail Jones and freshman Juan Anderson to spell those two. The four of them played 79 of 80 minutes at the “four” and “five” positions.

The same situation reared its ugly head Thursday night, when Gardner picked up his second foul at the 9:13 mark of the first half, and Otule did the same 13 seconds later. Those two wound up playing 33 of a possible 40 minutes at center, with Wilson and Steve Taylor Jr. making up the final seven.

But with Otule and Gardner battling foul trouble and essentially being forced to play against Notre Dame’s frontcourt of 6-foot-9 Jack Cooley and 6-foot-10 Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman, it made the Marquette guards’ No. 1 priority helping on drives to the basket so Otule and Gardner didn’t pick up fouls.

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Trent Lockett helps after Junior Cadougan is beat off the dribble, leaving Connaughton open in the corner for a 3-point make. (Screenshot/Synergy)

That wasn’t the case all night, but it served as the trend that led to Connaughton’s second straight impressive performance from beyond the arc–he made 6-of-8 3-pointers Wednesday night against Rutgers.

On three of Connaughton’s 3-pointers Thursday night, Marquette guards were beat off the dribble and help defense came, leaving the sharpshooter open. On a fourth, Junior Cadougan didn’t switch on an inbounds play that left Connaughton open for another make.

A fifth came after Trent Lockett crashed the glass on a Jerian Grant 3-point attempt, and a Jack Cooley offensive rebound resulted in a wide-open Connaughton. On the sixth and final 3, the only time Notre Dame ran a play for him in a halfcourt set, Anderson inexplicably went under a Tom Knight screen that resulted in three more Irish points.

Last season Marquette shaded inside on almost every halfcourt possession, and twice help defense resulted in a Connaughton 3-pointer. Two other times the Golden Eagles were out of position because of the constantly-rotating defense, and help defense resulted in a long-ball. On a fifth, Todd Mayo helped on a Notre Dame cutter inside to leave Connaughton open.

Todd Mayo jumps a cut on Alex Dragicevich, leaving Connaughton open for a 3-point make. (Screenshot/Synergy)

Todd Mayo jumps a cut on Alex Dragicevich, leaving Connaughton open for a 3-point make. (Screenshot/Synergy)

It was a painful reminder of just how fragile Marquette’s frontcourt–though deeper and more talented than ever before under Williams–can be when foul trouble piles up. Against a hot 3-point shooting team (Notre Dame is hitting on 37.5 percent of its 3’s this season), there’s more to guarding the perimeter than simply the guards.

Thursday night it showed, and the results ended Marquette’s run in New York.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Synergy

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