They came when the Wolfpack desperately needed them, in the second half of its first road game and trying to avoid a two-game losing streak. The Pack built a 14-point lead against Marquette during that stretch, enough of an advantage to hold on when the Golden Eagles rallied in the final minutes. The Pack now finds itself a perfect 4-0 away from home, dispatching Marquette 77-73 on Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Pack (6-1) used its defense to erase an 11-point halftime deficit. Marquette (6-2) didn't score a field goal for the first five minutes of the second half, committing five turnovers in that stretch. Meanwhile the Pack got its offense in order by working through Tracy Smith, who kept finding open shooters when the Eagles would double-team him.
The combination worked to perfection, as the Pack did a complete turn-around from its first-half performance. The Pack shot a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc in the game and shot over 71 percent in the half, all while forcing nine turnovers. The Eagles shot 40 percent in the second half, a mark that was skewed by the barrage of 3-pointers Marquette hit in the final minutes.
Tracy Smith led the way again for the Pack despite a slow first half, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the second half and pulling down 11 rebounds. Javi Gonzalez added 15 points and was 3-for-5 from behind the 3-point line, while Dennis Horner added 13 points. Josh Davis, playing his most significant minutes of season, added nine points and six rebounds while nabbing two of the Pack's 14 steals.
Javi Gonzalez appeared to pull his hamstring during the first half, limping to the bench but returning at the start of the second half. Gonzalez has been the Pack's starting point guard all season and was among the league leaders in assists, as well as being the Pack's third-leading scorer. Gonzalez's absence allowed Farnold Degand to see his first action after a six-game suspension because of academic concerns.
The Pack got off to a brief 11-9 lead to start the game, but things went south quickly for the visitors. Poor defense led to wide-open 3-point shots and uncontested lay-ups, helping the Eagles go on a 9-0 midway through the half to pull. The Pack pulled the game back into single digits late, only to have the Eagles hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to make it 36-25 at the half.
Marquette shot 40 percent from the field compared to 38 percent for the Pack, but dominated the offensive glass in the half to pull ahead. The Eagles had 12 offensive rebounds and 24 rebounds overall compared to just 17 for the Pack, who also committed eight turnovers in the half. Horner led the way for the Pack, scoring nine points in the first 20 minutes.
The Pack emerged from the locker room with renewed defensive focus, forcing a flurry of turnovers from the Eagles. Those turnovers helped the Pack go on a 11-2 run at the start of the second half, not allowing a Marquette field goal in the first five minutes. A 3-pointer from Julius Mays completely erased that deficit as the Pack pulled ahead for the first time, 43-42.
The Pack kept padding its lead, going ahead by as much as 14 points before the Eagles started their comeback. The Eagles kept draining 3-pointers, while the Pack lost its nerve at the free-throw line, going 1-for-8 to end the game but just barely holding on to win.