MILWAUKEE – Wesley Matthews scored a collegiate high 27 points as Marquette overpowered Houston Baptist 95-64 in the Golden Eagles' season opener Friday night at the Bradley Center.
Matthews also added eight assists, five steals, and five rebounds, and three other Golden Eagles also scored in double figures – Jerel McNeal (20 points), Lazar Hayward (19), and Jimmy Butler (10) – as Marquette used a strong second-half performance to pull away from the visiting Huskies.
"Because of his versatility he has a positive impact on our team on both ends of the floor," Head Coach Buzz Williams said of Matthews. "He just competes so hard on every single possession, it's absolutely incredible."
On the heels of a lackadaisical first half, Marquette (1-0) came out of the locker room a more poised team, as they used a 14-0 run out of the gates to increase their eight-point halftime lead to twenty-two points (56-34) by the 15:33 mark of the second half. From there, Marquette's lead never dropped below nineteen points the rest of the way.
The Golden Eagles displayed tremendous efficiency in the second half on both ends of the floor. They shot 60 percent from the field, turned the ball over only five times, and forced Houston Baptist (0-1) into 15 of their 25 total turnovers. Their success seemed to start at the offensive end, though, as a patient Marquette squad converted their first two possessions into four points, highlighted by an impressive turnaround jumper by McNeal, just 16 seconds into the half.
"I think we have to [learn how to] string together consecutive perfect possessions," cited Williams. "I thought that we started to do that in the initial part of the second half, especially with some really good series on the defensive end."
While Matthews was undoubtedly the star of the night, several other Golden Eagles turned in noteworthy performances. Hayward chipped in 12 rebounds to record a double-double, and both Patrick Hazel and Jimmy Butler came off the bench to provide key contributions. The two combined to play for 46 minutes (Butler 24, Hazel 22) with Hazel totaling seven points and four rebounds and Butler adding four rebounds and a block to go with his double-figure point total.
"I think that he is very versatile," Williams said of Butler. "He wants to get better, he listens, and he wants to do the right things [for the team]. He's coming along, but he's got to keep coming along because we're going to need him."
It was not all smooth sailing for Marquette, however, as the team was victimized by poor early shot selection and nine first half turnovers. The Huskies drew their closest at the 12:14 mark of the first half when Gordon Watt converted a short jumper to bring them within a point at 15-14. The Golden Eagles did, however, manage to take a 42-34 lead into halftime.
Watt led the way for HBU with 17 points and nine rebounds. Baron Sauls and Demtrus Judge chipped in 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Williams received the game ball from Matthews in his first win at Marquette University and appeared humble in tonight's press conference.
Despite the impressive turnaround displayed in the second half, concern remains regarding Marquette's lack of depth in the post. Starting center Dwight Burke fouled out of the contest and recorded his fourth foul just two minutes into the second half. Marquette will also be playing without 6'10" freshman Chris Otule, who suffered a broken foot during practice this week.
After a quick turnaround, Marquette will play Chicago State in the opening game of the Chicago Invitational Monday night at 7:00 p.m. CST at the Bradley Center.