CLEVELAND—A week ago Thursday, Vander Blue stood exhausted at his locker, explaining his theory on success in March after taking down West Virginia in the Big East Tournament.
"Offense sells tickets," the freshman guard said. "But defense wins championships."
Friday night Blue and the Golden Eagles used that theory, holding the Xavier Musketeers to just 31 percent shooting in the first half en route to a 66-55 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Eagles held Xavier's two leading scorers, guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, to a combined nine points on 4-of-17 shooting and forced 15 turnovers to pick up their first tournament win since 2009.
Holloway, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, was a point of emphasis all night for the Golden Eagles, who used defensive juggernaut Jimmy Butler to limit him to just five points and five assists.
"I think he's the key to their team," Butler said. "If we can take him out of the game, we take a lot of their players out of the game because he distributes the ball so well. So when he's far away from the basket and he can't get in the offense like he would like to, I think it changes the whole pace of the game."
It was apparent from the get-go that Marquette was going to try and keep the ball out of Holloway's and Lyons' hands, making someone other than the backcourt duo beat them on the perimeter.
"I thought that's where Marquette did a better job than the majority of the teams we've played this year, making Tu give it up and not allowing him to split the ball screen," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "And that's why you give a lot of credit to those guys for the type of defense they were able to play against us in the half court."
Marquette benefited from not having to see much of Lyons in the first half, as the sophomore guard picked up two quick fouls in the first four minutes and then another with eight minutes before intermission.
And it was Marquette's defense that put him on the bench.
Butler stepped in front of Lyons as he drove to the hoop to pick up the charge, his third foul of the half. He was awarded two points on the play for releasing his shot before he made contact, but Marquette was more than willing to put two points up on the scoreboard to put Lyons down on the bench.
From the time he took a seat at the 7:51 mark, the Golden Eagles outscored Xavier by nine to extend the halftime lead to 13 points. It also allowed Marquette to focus all its attention on Holloway, forcing him into three first half turnovers.
Holloway's frustrations continued into the second half, as he put his first points on the board with 12:13 remaining in the. He entered the contest averaging 8.6 free throw attempts per game, but made his only two attempts of the game in the final minutes.
As a team the Musketeers, who get almost 25 percent of their scoring from the line, made just 11 free throws. Their 15 attempts were the third lowest for them all season.
A main point of emphasis for Marquette coach Buzz Williams was shutting down Xavier's highly efficient ball screen. While watching game film earlier in the week, Williams said he stopped counting how many ball screens Xavier set in a game and began counting the ball screens they set per possession.
"You can't guard their ball screens with just those two guys," Williams said, referring to the defenders on the dribbler and screener. "It happens with all five guys. As the ball moves we've got to be like magnets to the ball, and I thought we didn't give up anything on the backside. So collectively that was one thing we preached all week, you have to defend the screen with all five guys on the floor."
That team defense rang true when senior Joe Fulce, who played just four minutes, stood in and took a charge on a Holloway drive at the 8:42 mark in the second half. Xavier had cut the lead to eight and were picking up momentum, but the foul on Holloway led to a three-pointer for Darius Johnson-Odom on the other end, extending the lead to 11 and ending Xavier's last real threat.
The Musketeers did get solid performances from junior forward Kenny Frease, who finished with 12 points, and senior Andrew Taylor, who scored a career-high 16 points, but not allowing Holloway and Lyons to even get open looks was too much to overcome in the second half.
"When they put two guys on [Holloway] and force him to give up the basketball, it's not wise to start taking ill-advised shots," Mack said. "Give [Marquette] a lot of credit. They made guys step up in roles they weren't necessarily comfortable with."
The Golden Eagles' defense might not win them a championship this season, but for one night in Cleveland it got them one round closer toward obtaining the ultimate goal of cutting down the nets in Houston.
MU shuts down Tu in round two
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