MILWAUKEE – Lazar Hayward scored a game high 22 points and Wes Matthews chipped in 21 as Marquette won comfortably, 84-45, over Presbyterian in their final non-conference game of the season Sunday afternoon at the Bradley Center.
While Hayward stole the show with yet another double-double (eleven rebounds), the game was marked by a well-balanced team effort. All eleven scholarship players saw action for Marquette (11-2), as the Golden Eagles very efficiently dominated the boards 44-20, recorded 23 assists on 31 field goals, and shot nearly 50 percent from the field while holding the Blue Hose (5-8) to a mere 36 percent.
"From a numbers perspective it could arguably be our best game of the season," said head coach Buzz Williams. "Typically you see a lot of rust in the first game after Christmas, but today I didn't see a whole lot of rust. I think we played pretty well."
After a shaky start to the game, which saw Presbyterian take a quick lead and Dominic James pick up a technical foul, Marquette settled down and began to slowly dismantle their opponent. It all started at the defensive end, as the Golden Eagles held Presbyterian scoreless for a near-seven-minute stretch ending at the 10:54 mark. Subsequently, the Blue Hose were held to a woeful 28 percent from the field in the first half. Thanks to this stretch, MU was able to build a comfortable lead and take a 40-18 advantage into the locker room.
Marquette had two first half highlights courtesy of Chris Otule and Joe Fulce. Otule checked in at the 9:16 mark and immediately looked to get involved. While still learning his way, the freshman center did not appear the least bit intimidated as he effectively worked to get good post position and attacked the basket when he got the ball. Otule's work was rewarded at the 6:55 mark when he sealed his defender, received an entry pass from Hayward and converted on a drop step. Equally impressive was Fulce's block of seven-foot center Steven Gatkouth's dunk attempt at the 3:08, which brought the crowd to its feet and, more importantly, resulted in a transition basket by James.
"Chris can really help us," said Matthews. "If he catches the ball in the paint, he's either going to finish or get fouled, and we're going to need that against some of the big bodies [we're going to see] in the Big East."
The second half resembled the first half, as once again Marquette allowed Presbyterian to score on their first three possessions. And, as in the first half, good things happened for the Golden Eagles when they began applying pressure. The Blue Hose turned the ball over 10 times in the final 20 minutes. That led to more opportunities for MU on the other end, where they made a blistering 57 percent of their field goals in the second half. Leading the charge was Maurice Acker, who, despite only scoring one point, turned in a helluva showing with 10 assists and four steals.
"It can't be easy. I know I've never done it before," Matthews said of Acker's contributions off of the bench. "He was hawking the ball on defense. He helped set the pace [offensively], and he always seemed to make the right plays."
Like the first half, the second half highlight earned dual honors. At the 16:25 mark, Hayward gathered a rebound and threw a baseball pass three-quarters-court precisely to Matthews, who flushed it home. Matthews, who also finished with six rebounds and three assists, was also involved in the other noteworthy play, which unfolded ten minutes later. This time it was Matthews quarterbacking a three-quarter pass off a rebound and James finishing with an ally-op lay in. Both plays represented the height of jubilation for the crowd of 13,879.
Presbyterian was led by Al'Lonzo Coleman and Josh Johnson, who had 13 and 11 points, respectively.
As Marquette moves past the non-conference portion of their schedule and looks towards play in the Big East, one thing remains evident – the Golden Eagles need more true team efforts like Sunday's performance.
"How we need to play is [as simple, as complete] team defense and [complete] team offense," said Williams. "Everyone knows who are four best players are, and every scouting report will be to try and limit their touches. [That's why] there needs to be balance and [roles] need to flow between the guys."
The Golden Eagles open Big East play on New Year's Day at 1:30 PM CDT against Villanova at the Bradley Center.
Dwight Burke recorded his highest point total of the season with six… Jerel McNeal did not score until he converted a field goal at the 13:15 mark of the second half… Lazar Hayward matched his minutes with points (22)… MU's bench outscored Presbyterian's 18-2…. MU's largest lead was 41 points at the 2:59 mark of the second half.