The Marquette Golden Eagles passed their first big test of the season.
The Purdue Boilermakers came into the season ranked #23 in the nation. They fell from the rankings after losing a close game to a good Texas Longhorns team, so they were hoping to get back on track against MU.
They jumped all over Marquette to start the game, but in what could be Wojo’s best coaching performance in his career, Marquette stepped up in the second half to win, 65-55.
Marquette looked terrible in the first half. Purdue jumped all over them to start and their long, strong, and aggressive defensive appeared to be too much for Marquette. Marquette’s offense was stagnant and no one other than Markus could find a way to score. The offense sucked, the energy faded and the effort was nowhere to be found. Marquette was outrebounded 27 to 16 (12 to 4 offensive rebounds), was outshot 44.1% to 29.6%, and found themselves lucky to only be down 38-25 at half.
At halftime Wojo either found “Michael’s secret stuff” or if he came up with a great adjustment because the team we saw in the second half was a totally different team. With the effort and energy levels turned up, Marquette started to attack confidently. Led by Koby McEwen, they began to push the ball up the floor and penetrate the paint to create scoring opportunities.
After looking uncomfortable in the first half, McEwen was dominant in the second half, scoring 18 on way to a game high 23 points. This newfound energy and confidence was the game plan Marquette needed as they crushed Purdue in the second half 40-17 to win the game 65-55.
Maybe Wojo is a good in-game coach. I have been critical of Wojo in the past for his inability to make in-game or in-season adjustments, yet on Wednesday night he proved to be the better halftime coach. Whatever happened in the locker room gave Marquette new life and the game plan to be more aggressive driving inside worked. Wojo will of course have to do more this season, but this is definitely a great start.
Markus Howard is great and will be great and his backcourt partner stepped up big time. McEwen found himself in the second half and not only ran the offense, but led the offense. If McEwen can be the confident, aggressive player he was in the second half, Marquette will have enough offensively to be the dangerous, Top 25 team fans hoped they could be.
Theo John is the underrated MVP of the night. He somehow managed to stay out of foul trouble while most around him could not (1 player with 5 fouls, 4 with four, and 5 with three while John had 2). By no means did he shut Matt Haarms down, but he stayed aggressive with him all night and anchored the Marquette defense that did not allow a made basket the last six minutes of the game. The defense appears to be great and, in a shift from years past, is strong enough to win Marquette games this season.
The lineup featured an eight-man rotation. With Brendan Bailey and Ed Morrow facing foul trouble, Greg Elliott (23) and Jamal Cain (27) saw many minutes. Even though he was coming off numerous injuries, Elliott was expected to be a key role player. His defensive presence and passing ability that he showed again will be huge to this team’s success. After a disappointing sophomore season, Cain did not appear to be a big part of this team heading into the season.
Wednesday night, he brought great energy and effort, was strong and confident on defense, and secured many tough rebounds. Both Elliott and Cain looked great in many facets of the game, but they did not look great shooting the ball. They combined to shoot 0-6 from three with many misses being way off. The development of a consistent three point shot for either or both of these players would really benefit this team and propel them into an even more prominent role in the rotation.
Marquette stays in the Big 10 as they travel to Madison to take on the rival Wisconsin Badgers this Sunday. Wisconsin is 2-1, fell to #20 Saint Mary’s in OT before defeating Eastern Illinois and McNeese. A win at Wisconsin could very likely propel Marquette into the Top 25.