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NIT Tip-Off Tournament final score: No. 2 Kansas’ second half surge dooms Marquette, 77-68

A classic tale of two halves.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Season Tip-Off-Marquette at Kansas Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After a blistering first half shooting performance, in which the Marquette Golden Eagles were able to pick apart the No. 2-ranked Kansas Jayhawks from long range, the Jayhawks regrouped and grounded the Golden Eagles upon starting the second half.

Marquette gave up a 22-0 run to Kansas after the break, and the Golden Eagles never recovered. They were scoreless for the first 9:37 of the second half, and it gave Kansas more than enough time to gain separation. The Jayhawks went on to win, 77-68.

”Shoutout to Marquette, they came out firing away,” said Kansas’ Dedric Lawson. “Coach got on us about being tough and going out there and defending our man. We had a couple adjustments in the second half and that helped us out in the 22-0 run.”

It was a disappointing downward spiral for the Golden Eagles, who had such a promising first half, where they made 11 three-pointers and decimated the Jayhawks from beyond the arc to take a 47-38 lead at half. However, they got out of the break slowly, as turnovers, offensive fouls, and missed shots marred their ability to find any rhythm scoring-wise.

Kansas started attacking the basket and Marquette couldn’t answer the Jayhawks’ physical style of play. Lawson spearheaded the attack, finishing with a game-high 26 points off 9-of-16 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.

While he took over down the stretch, Marquette struggled to generate any offense. After shooting 18-of-33 (54.1 percent) in the first half, it followed up with a mediocre 7-for-27 showing on the floor (25.9 percent).

”We turned it over, and we gave them easy baskets--which you can’t do against a team like Kansas,” said Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski. “Some of the good decisions we made in the first half, we didn’t make in the second half. I thought we left a lot of really good shots to take. You can’t do that, Kansas is very talented. To beat a team like that, you have to play all 40 minutes.”

The Golden Eagles finally scored their first basket of the second half with 10:23 to go, thanks to a Sam Hauser three. Marquette was able to get a few more long-range shots to fall, but it ultimately couldn’t produce enough to retake the lead.

Hauser paced Marquette with 20 points, including six threes. He also had six rebounds. Markus Howard struggled the second half, finishing with 18 points but just a 6-of-23 shooting performance.

”We were so bad in the first half,” Kansas head coach Bill self said. “We were so slow, and they were so quick. They really had us on our heels. Marquette--they’re dangerous because everyone can shoot, but we did a good job of taking away the three in the second half.”

Aside from Lawson, Lagerald Vick had 16 points. Marcus Garrett added 11 points. Devon Dotson finished with 10 points, three boards, and four assists.

Kansas advances to the championship game, where it’ll play No. 5 Tennessee right after the third-place game. The Golden Eagles will play the Louisville Cardinals in the consolation game, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET on Friday.

Three takeaways from Wednesday’s game:

Golden Touch

After shooting an impressive 41.7 percent from long range last season--the third-highest mark in all of Division I NCAA (and a Division I-best 42.9 percent the year before that)--Marquette didn’t look like itself through its first four games of the season.

Markus Howard, who shot the lights out in this first two seasons, was actually having a bit of a down turn to start the year. Although 37.5 percent (12-of-32) isn’t exactly a bad mark by any means, Howard’s shooting had been so good that slightly-above-average is a bit below of the level he’s played it. Outside of Howard, overall as a team, Marquette was shooting a middle-of-the-pack 33.6 percent (178th) entering Wednesday night’s game.

However, on Wednesday night, it seemed like the Golden Eagles were starting to head back in the right direction. They took flight from long range, converting on 14-of-31 threes for the game (45.2 percent).. They were getting excellent looks, attacking the weak-side corner, freeing themselves with screens, or utilizing pick-and-pop plays. It felt like a matter of time before the Golden Eagles found their shooting stroke again, let’s see how this holds moving forward.

The Road Less Traveled

It’s no secret that Marquette loves to shoot the ball, especially from deep. The free throw line has never really been the Golden Eagles’ friend--below 250th in free throw rate in each of the last three years. When they get there, they can convert, but their three-point happy style usually results in less trips to the charity stripe.

Against Kansas, Marquette didn’t get to the line until the 4:21 mark of the second half--when Joey Hauser went 1-of-2. Overall, the Golden Eagles shot just five free throws in the whole game, making four of them.

Coach Wojo has stated he would like his team to improve in this area of the game, but it hasn’t been a featured part of the Golden Eagles since his second year in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles attempted to drive and attack the basket more in the second half--shooting less threes--but they seemed outmatched by the physical Kansas front line. When the threes aren’t dropping as often, Marquette desperately needed to find another way to hang in there. It’s bizarre that they didn’t shoot a single free throw until the game was slipping away from and with not that much time left for a comeback.

Don’t be fooled by flashy 5-star gold

As upperclassmen seem to be obsolete in programs that bring in multiple consensus 5-star talents year in and year out, one-and-dones, and players that are on the NBA Draft radar before even suiting up for a single college basketball game, Kansas got some big contributions from its veterans.

Lawson, a redshirt junior, led the way on Wednesday night. Vick, a senior, paced the Jayhawks in the first half, setting the stage for a Lawson takeover.

While junior Udoka Azubuike, the Jayhawks’ heralded 6-foot-10 big man, wasn’t that much of an impact player due to foul trouble (just six points and four rebounds through 15 minutes of play), he was dangerous when he was able to set foot on the floor. He was expected to be a featured player in this matchup, with a 40-pound advantage on Marquette’s biggest frontcourt player.

There is a lot of youth on this team, with nine of 15 roster members being a true sophomore or younger. Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson were two headliners for the Jayhawks’ strong incoming class. Grimes struggled against Marquette, while Dotson locked down on Howard in the second half. This is a team loaded with weapons and promising talent, but for now, seniority rules.