WVU managed just a season-low five three-pointers, considered the potent portion of its offensive style, and its usually reliable 1-3-1 zone was carved up via Marquette's quickness and athleticism. The Golden Eagles, the nation's sixth-best team in terms of steals, finished with 11 and tallied 17 points off as many turnovers and a 40-22 edge on points in the paint. Ahead by 10 at the half, MU (15-4, 2-2) scored the first five points and never led by any fewer than nine in the last 20 minutes.
It was a complete reversal of last year's contest in Morgantown, where West Virginia hit a school-record 20 three-pointers and committed just five turnovers in a 104-85 win. The Mountaineers lost four of five starters and five of its top six players from that team however, and just one of its key players had ever started in a Big East road game.
"Our lack of experience really showed," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said. "That's an NCAA tournament team with four off five starters back, and it looked like it. At times, we looked like a team with one starter back."
That lone starter led WVU with 11 points, Frank Young being of just two Mountaineers in double figures. His three-pointer with 12:15 remaining cut the deficit to nine. But Joe Alexander forced two shots as the shot clock wound down during poor offensive sets. Marquette, off its swarming defense, hit consecutive shots to put the game away with a 60-45 lead with 8:52 left. The differential ballooned to as many as 21 points as MU shot 60 percent in the second half and a season-best 57 percent from three-point range overall. It was a classic case of a young team learning to win on the road – and now knowing that league play is brutal after a cakewalk during the home slate when it led each game by at least 19 points. The Mountaineers lost at Notre Dame on Wednesday.
The Golden Eagles – who took a 19-10 edge with 12 minutes left in the first half – showcased their game style in those first eight minutes, when they triggered the attack by forcing six turnovers and seducing West Virginia into the occasional burst of trying to play uptempo. Young's three-pointer gave the Mountaineers a 10-8 lead with 14:45 left, but MU answered with an 11-0 run. The last five points in the push came off turnovers, and the first six were from the foul line, all but one of which came on fouls called on second-chance points. It partially accounted for Marquette's 40-26 rebounding advantage overall. WVU had outrebounded its last two foes.
With West Virginia lacking within the area that had it ranked as high as the nation's top scoring defense, Marquette had four players in double figures. David Cubillan scored 14 off the bench and Wesley Matthews, which did not play against WVU last year or in MU's two Big East losses this season, added 13. The duo combined to make 10 of 11 shots from the field. Jerel McNeil had 11 points. Jamie Smalligan came off the bench to score 10 for West Virginia, the final points coming after starting center Rob Summers fouled out after playing 12 minutes. He averaged 24-plus minutes in the first 15 games. Marquette has won two in a row after coming off a win at Connecticut on Wednesday.
"That was the first thing we talked about at the beginning of the game," Beilein said. "Rob needed to stay out of foul trouble because they were going to attack us. We are disappointed. I don't want to put it on us as much as Marquette. It snowballed on us quickly. A turnover, a bad decision, and you're down eight when it could have been five."
West Virginia answered did have a 10-2 run in the first half that was keyed by a six-of-six effort from the line – WVU finished 20 of 23 overall – and Young's second three-pointer. It went cold after that, however, failing to hit a field goal for a span of seven minutes, and stayed as close as 29-24 only via eight straight made free throws, part of an 11-for-11 first half. The same rebounding and turnover problems reemerged in the final three minutes, when Marquette scored 11 of the final 18 points of the half to take a 40-30 lead at the break. James keyed the stretch with a pair of threes that came open with good ball movement and reversal. Dwight Burke, a 22.2 percent free throw shooter entering, made three in the final 90 seconds. WVU had 13 turnovers in the first half. It drops to 2-3 all-time against Marquette and has never won in Milwaukee.
"You can probably count on one hand the number of double-digit losses here in the last few years," Beilein said. "This is going to happen. We'll have to deal with it in the most positive way."
Marquette was ranked for the first nine weeks of the season. West Virginia was ranked for the last two. The teams will flop places now, though the Mountaineers have winnable games against South Florida, Cincinnati, Marshall and DePaul. Marquette plays at Louisville and Pitt.