How to lose a game in 10 plays

It’s an ungodly time on the Godliest of days, almost 32 hours hours after the final buzzer sounded, and I’m still thinking about Marquette’s loss to Butler.

This is why sport fans are of a different breed. It isn’t just that they feel the emotions of the game more profusely, it’s that the effects of someone else’s actions reverberate for day, weeks, months and even years to come.

Take this Tweet for example.

It’s been over 8 years since Marquette lost that game to Georgetown, a game that ultimately didn’t mean much or prevent Marquette from getting a 3 seed or making the Sweet 16. And yet, I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind for almost a third of my life. Marquette had it rolling, and had scored 5 points in less than a minute. The crowd was dead and the game was basically over.

But Buzz calls a timeout directly after Mayo’s made 3 in front of the bench, to set up the defense or something, Georgetown immediately reels off 5 unanswered in the next 30 seconds and well, Marquette ends up losing.

Of course, it wasn’t that timeout that lost the game. I know that perfectly well. There were 13 minutes left for Marquette to not be outscored by 18. Over 91% of the time, they will do that and we lose this rather insignificant game from our memories with the other 300 MU games we can’t recall. There are dozens of more consequential plays, and hundreds of actions that all work to set the result.

And so it is with Marquette’s loss to Butler on Friday. Wojo’s decision to foul while tied will be the thing that forever stands out, but it took a lot of lack of coaching, poor decisions and athletic malpractice to even get to that point. Here are the 10 plays that stand out.

1. Markus crashes into a chair

I’ve watched this play about 15 times, and I really don’t think the Butler defender makes contact, rather Markus just loses his balance and momentum carries him into the stands, where his head crashes directly into a chair.

What does matter is that even though Markus wasn’t exactly en fuego prior to this, he had been quite successful, scoring 21 points on 14 shots. After, not so much.

Before 6 14 3 5 3 9 21 2
After 2 13 1 4 1 9 5 3

We’ve seen too much of Markus’ career to know that isn’t normal. Last year, as Marquette’s season was imploding, a wrist injury killed his accuracy, and the lethal step-back jumper became a shot teams were begging him to take.

However, much like last year, despite the fact that something was off, Markus continued to play like he normally does, taking 40+% of MU’s possessions. I have zero qualms with that when healthy, but as a 4th year senior and team leader, he has to recognize when it’s not there and defer more than usual to others. Particularly when the others were all blazing hot.


It’s on Markus to adjust. It’s on the staff to make him aware, or even force him to do so. He’s been hyper efficient on ultra-high usage for most of the year. Limiting volume for a few minutes when something is off is both good for him and good for the team. This, more than anything, cost Marquette an opportunity at stealing a game that was gift wrapped for them.

2. Picked and rolled apart

Coming into the game, Kamar Baldwin shot off of P&Rs twice as often as his next most common play type on Synergy (Spot ups at 16%). He did it relatively effectively, so with Aaron Thompson out with an injury, Marquette had to be extra prepared for Kamar’s bread and butter.

And in the first half, they were. Kamar shot as the P&R ball handler 5 times in the first half, only scoring 2 points and even turning it over once. That’s in large part due to great preparation and execution by Marquette. But it was also because Baldwin was just not hitting the looks he was given.

Boy did that change.

In the 2nd half, Baldwin scored 12 points on 8 P&R possessions. In overtime, Baldwin scored 9 points on 6 P&R possessions. 21 points on 15 possessions, a 1.4PPP would rank as the 3rd best mark in the country, per Synergy, this season. It’s scintillating.

But what’s extremely worrisome is that a majority of that heavy lifting came down the stretch, and Marquette failed to alter it’s scheme at all. Here is Kamar’s Synergy shot chart the last 6 minutes of regulation and overtime, coming off of P&R. And keep in mind those little numbers on the bottom left are shots missed when fouled, so not really misses in any sense.

Kamar pick.JPG

So he went 6-8 on FG, scoring 17 points in those 11 minutes. Other than trying Sacar, Koby and Brendan on him, no adjustments to the defense came. No zone. No high hedge. No double.

Did I mention there were only 22 possession run by Butler in that timespan, and that includes being fouled intentionally multiple times and a 5-second count?

It’s unacceptable.

3. Not going to the well

With just under 5 minutes to play, Marquette ran a P&R set with Markus and Brendan that led to a pretty slipped screen 3, the Sam Hauser special. Bailey has thrived on these plays this season, scoring 18 points in only 13 possessions, in the 92nd percentile of all D1 players.

They ran the same play the next possession, resulting in a (tough) made runner by Markus when Butler decided to switch the big onto him.

MU ran it a third straight time, which confused Butler and led to a wide open free throw line jumper that Markus ended up missing. But that play was gold.

A few possessions later, Marquette ran it once more, and Markus drilled a 3 with Nze sagging to prevent penetration off the switch.

Marquette tried it once more before the half, but Markus dribbled it off his leg for an over and back turnover before the play could develop.

Those 5 possessions resulted in 8 points and a missed wide open 14-footer. Butler simply had no answer for it.

Guess how many times Marquette ran it in the 2nd half and overtime? Zip. Zilch. Nada. When Butler found a weakness, it milked it dry for 11 straight minutes. When Marquette found a weakness, it spared Butler from having to face it the final 25 minutes.

4. Dribbling on your shoe

Markus was erroneously credited with a turnover earlier in the game for dribbling the ball off a Butler defender’s shoe. This time, the blame falls squarely on him.

And outside of the result, this is a great example of how “off” he was. Normally, when he gets switched on to a player like McDermott, one with size but less agility than him, he will drive right past. He could not get a feel for the ball, though and nearly lost it before ultimately losing it.

5. Missing point blank bunnies

Sacar has been Marquette’s best finisher at the rim by a wide margin, shooting 57.9% on 76 attempts. He’s been particularly adept at going for the reverse layup, using the rim to deter would-be blockers. He’s probably never missed an easier on this season.

MU would have still been down 1 if this goes in, so it’s not a direct reason for the defeat, but the way the miracle 3s were dropping, could have improved the odds for yet another overtime.

6. Did I mention missing bunnies?

Again, lots of time left in the game, but this is as easy a shot as you can get. You can’t miss this.

7. Poor shot selection

This isn’t a bad shot, and for Markus on an average day is probably a very good shot. But down just 1 with over 10 seconds left on the clock, there is absolutely no need to launch this.

I discussed in an earlier point how Markus had burned Nze for a 5 minute stretch of the first half. He has him flatfooted on the perimeter with a full head of speed. This screams for a drive to the basket.


Best case scenario he blows by Nze and gets to the rim where he most likely gets fouled. Worst case, Koby’s defender collapses over and leaves him with a good look for 3. Either scenario would be preferable to what did happen.

8. Look behind you

Marquette finally forces Baldwin into a tough shot, Theo corrals the airball, but isn’t aware of the Butler defender behind him, who slaps the ball away.

I know Theo’s wrist problems don’t help matters, but this steal led directly to a made Butler basket and turned a tough 4 point lead to an insurmountable (almost) one.

9. Unlclutchness

Before the game, a conversation on Twitter led me to compare the “clutch” numbers of Markus Howard to Myles Powell, as the national narrative had Powell well ahead of Markus. That simply wasn’t the case.

(Clutch time is defined as a 5 point game with less than 5 minutes to go in the 2nd half or overtime.)

But there was no denying how poor he was on Friday night. 0-5 from the arc. 1-2 inside of it. 2 points. 1 turnover.

Again, we already mentioned the poor shot selection, and this is a particularly egregious case, but it was just a bad performance overall. Missing good looks. Taking bad shots. Not creating for others.

It’s one game, and again, isn’t indicative of his overall clutch play this year, but it really hurt the team.

10. Wojo did what?

This will forever be known as the game Wojo forgot the score and told his player to foul the hottest man on the court with the score tied and 20 seconds to go in the game.

I think my Tweet thread in real time holds up well, and enough has been discussed around it that I really don’t have anything more to add. It didn’t cost Marquette the game, but it puts the focus directly on Wojo, where it rightfully should be.

That’s how you lose a game in 10 plays.

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Categories: Analysis, Home


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One Comment on “How to lose a game in 10 plays”

  1. Don Easterling
    January 26, 2020 at 3:23 pm #

    Great article. Why Wojo won’t ever play a zone especially coming late in the game when you can’t cover a particular player.
    Keep up the good work.

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