With finals week behind them, the Marquette Golden Eagles (8-3) flew past North Florida (1-7), 78-51, Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center.
Jimmy Butler was efficient as usual, scoring 21 points on just six attempts from the floor to lead Marquette. Junior forward Joe Fulce seized the opportunity left by departed freshman Jeronne Maymon, putting up career highs in points (13) and rebounds (10).
"It's great," said Fulce. "It's just doing what I do every day, working hard and eventually, piece by piece, everything starts to come together."
Fulce was the hot hand early for the Golden Eagles, scoring seven of the team's first eight points. Yet the Ospreys kept the game close early, tying the score at 21 apiece with 9:04 to go in the first half.
Despite struggling with North Florida's active zone defense, Marquette was able to close the half on a 18-7 run, capped by a Dwight Buycks three-pointer at the buzzer, to take an 11 point lead into intermission.
In the second half, the Golden Eagles were able to clamp down on the Ospreys defensively, holding them to 28 percent shooting from the field. All 12 players saw the court for the Golden Eagles, as MU scored 18 of their 22 bench points after intermission.
"It was just a matter of calming down and getting back to what we normally do: playing hard, not committing so many fouls and maintaining great ball pressure," said Fulce. "And once we limit the turnovers, it all just starts to flow into getting the offense going."
After the announcement on Monday that Maymon would leave Marquette, many expected that Fulce would have an increased role with increased minutes. Also expected to see more action were freshmen Erik Williams and Youssoupha Mbao. They played only a combined 21 minutes, largely due to foul trouble.
"Both [Erik] and Yous would have played more if they wouldn't have had four fouls", head coach Buzz Williams said. "Our margin of error is not such that we can afford to just stop the clock and, ‘hey you get a foul because you're not playing the right way'. We can't do that."
Marquette pounded the glass the entire game as they outrebounded North Florida, 44-27 and converted 18 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points. he 44 rebounds were a season-high for the Golden Eagles.
"That's our most glaring weakness, is rebounding, and when guys like Buycks can rebound the way he did from a guard position, it at least gives us a chance" said Williams.
Marquette also shot 85 percent from the foul line.
Marquette will now have five days off to return home for the holidays followed by a final tune-up against Presbyterian, before beginning Big East play on Dec. 29th against No. 6 West Virginia. Last year the Golden Eagles defeated Presbyterian 84-45 behind 22 points from Lazar Hayward.
Marquette defeats North Florida, 78-51
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