Friday night's opening of the Blue and Gold Classic provided some interesting answers to some early season questions. Could Marquette's freshmen hold of the pressure of their first college game? Could Marquette improve on their weak showing on the boards in their first two exhibition games? Would transfer Dan Fitzgerald contribute in his first game at Marquette. Yes, Yes, and Yes.
Marquette defeated Rice 82-65 to advance to play Winthrop, a 73-50 winner over IUPUI in the early afternoon. Dominic James led Marquette with 16 points and was complimented by 14 from Jerel McNeal and 13 from Steve Novak.
"We got a lot of good basketball from many different people," said Head Coach Tom Crean. "We dished out 24 assists and that was crucial to our execution."
The early stage of the game was dominated by the Owls and forward J.R. Harrison, who scored the first thirteen points for the Owls. Harrison ended the first half with 14 points. Down 22-16, Marquette used a 23-10 run swinging the halftime score to 39-32. The Golden Eagles closed out the first half with an 11-0 spurt that was highlighted by three pointers by Novak and Dan Fitzgerald.
"We started to come together a little bit. We got out there and there was a lot of excitement because this was our first game, but we settled in and played better during that stretch," said Novak of the 11-0 run.
The energy brought to the defensive end of the floor was a huge asset to Marquette, especially in holding Rice scoreless in the final four minutes of the first half. Marquette also out rebounded the Owls 25-14 in the first half.
"I think anybody who was watching the game tonight could see that we worked on our rebounding," said Novak.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise came from sophomore Dan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald fell a few plays short of a triple double netting 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.
"He let the game come to him in a flow tonight. He sees the floor so well and he also was one of our best defenders," said Crean of Fitzgerald. "Not too bad for a guy playing in his first game at Marquette."
Strong halftime adjustments fueled Marquette 62-45 lead halfway through the second period. The Golden Eagles only committed six turnovers and shot the ball at an amazing 60 percent clip in the second half.
"Marquette did a nice job controlling the tempo throughout the game," said Rice Head Coach Willis Wilson. "We had some things go against us tonight and we just could not come back from them."
Marquette will now turn its focus towards the Winthop, who dusted off IUPUI to earn a spot in the finals.
"Tomorrow nights game is invaluable," remarked Crean. "This is the type of team that we will see in the round of 32 or the sweet 16. They are experienced and they are tough; their execution is incredible. They are a major league basketball team."
Marquette will look to answer even more questions against Winthrop on Saturday seeking their 6th straight Blue and Gold Championship.
Eagles Have Answers in 82-65 Win over Rice
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