The sports cliché goes a little something like this: "Despite trailing, no lead is ever safe when playing team X."
However, the only thing the past two weeks have taught Marquette fans is that no second half is ever safe when Marquette has that lead.
After failing to win even one of its four competitive non-conference games (Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt), Buzz Williams and the Marquette Golden Eagles knew it would have to begin building its resume once Big East season rolled around.
Things got off to a rousing start with a home win over West Virginia and a hard-fought road win at Rutgers. An acceptable hiccup playing in Pittsburgh put Marquette at 2-1 before the Golden Eagles shocked the nation by embarrassing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Milwaukee, 79-57.
With three wins in conference, including a no-doubter against the No. 11 team in the nation, Marquette fans were feeling pretty good about 2010. Maybe more importantly, they were hoping to cancel their heart medication prescription.
Then the Louisville game happened.
Leading 65-47 with 5:44 remaining, it appeared as though Marquette would finish the game off and move into the top 25 the following Monday. But a sudden disappearing act on the defensive end allowed the Cardinals to score 24 points in that span, while Marquette's stagnant offense produced just five.
The 71-70 loss in Louisville was soon forgotten after a 94-64 drubbing of winless DePaul, but just four days later Marquette fans felt as though they were having the same bad dream.
Up 12 just a minute and a half into the second half, the Golden Eagles allowed Notre Dame to shoot lights out in the second half to erase that lead in just over four minutes.
The Fighting Irish put the Golden Eagles away 80-75, leaving yet another "resume-building win on the table.
Marquette's most recent debacle occurred Tuesday night at the Bradley Center, when the Golden Eagles let freshman Jeremy Lamb have his way against a Marquette defense that was much too focused on Kemba Walker.
Buzz Williams even heeded warning to the team prior to the game.
"[I told them] we can't be foolish enough to think he's the exclusive reason they've only lost two games," Williams said. "You don't become the fifth best team in the country and just have one really good player."
Lamb (24 points, three rebounds, four assists) and fellow freshman Roscoe Smith (11 points, five offensive rebounds, two steals) made sure the Golden Eagles knew that what Williams was saying was true.
The defensive lapses over the past two weeks might have destroyed Marquette's chances at earning an NCAA bid. The same things, however, were being said last year at this point.
After a 2-5 start in Big East play last year, the Golden Eagles rallied to win 9-of-their-last-11 conference games and earned themselves a spot in the Dance.
With 10 games remaining, including four against ranked opponents, there is plenty of time for Marquette to earn a bid, but they sure aren't making things easy on themselves.
And as Jimmy Butler pointed out, it's not enough to say you learned from an experience like Louisville and Notre Dame.
"We say that we learn from it but we go out and do the exact same thing over and over again," Butler said of the team's defense after the Connecticut game. "Nobody wants to give up eight straight points or 10 straight points, but we have to have a mentality of, ‘I'm tired of my man scoring.'"
The only remedy to learn from a poor performance is to make a conceited effort to try harder the next game, and so far Marquette has failed to do that.
While the second half collapses could be a sign that Marquette just isn't as elite of a team as many fans want them to be, those same fans has come to believe they are through the team Williams has put together.
After the 76-68 defeat, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun offered praise to the Golden Eagles.
"I haven't seen anybody in this league play harder than Marquette does," he said.
Now it's time for them to start playing like that for 40 minutes.
Failure to finish
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