The Marquette Golden Eagles stunned the 10th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini Monday night. The Golden Eagles started the Gavitt Games off right for the Big East, as they triumphed over the Illini by the score of 67-66, giving the program one of their biggest wins in recent memory.
It was a slow start from the field for the Golden Eagles inside the Fiserv Forum as they found themselves trailing 19-11 halfway through the first half. However, a 12-2 Marquette run fueled by Shaka Smart’s havoc defense gave the Eagles a brief 23-21 lead before the Illini tied it back up heading into the under-four TV timeout. Marquette would ride that momentum to a 28-27 lead at the half.
Turnovers were the key to Marquette’s lead, forcing 15 first-half turnovers, three shy of Illinois’s season-high of 18. The press and tempo caused all kinds of problems for Brad Underwood’s squad early, causing 15 turnovers, three shy of a season-high. Andre Curbelo was the culprit of four of their turnovers, showing that life after Ayo Dosunmu was certainly going to take some adjustment.
As for Marquette, the first half went exactly how they needed it to especially given how rocky they started shooting the ball. Darryl Morsell led the way on both sides of the ball, leading Marquette with 8 points and creating all kinds of problems on the defensive end.
The second half started off hot with Illinois supplying much-needed offense, going on a 7-0 run to take a 38-33 lead. From there, the offense came in bursts on both sides, with Tyler Kolek hitting a pair of huge threes for Marquette, keeping the Illini within arm’s reach.
Trent Frazier had the hot left hand for the Illini, knocking down a trio of threes in the first eight minutes of the second half, giving him 18 points, and getting Illinois out to a 51-42 lead.
Illinois climbed out to a 12 point lead, its biggest of the night, taking advantage of all too frequent one-and-done quick possessions from Marquette. Yet again, though, it was the tough defense creating offense for Marquette leading to a three by Morsell, cutting the lead to three coming out of the under-eight timeout.
Just as the momentum was swinging back to Marquette while the Fiserv Forum started rocking, it was once again a Trent Frazier three-pointer, his sixth on the night, that kept Illinois two possessions up, and Marquette’s consistent inability to clean up the defensive glass led to an eight-point deficit again.
A pair of blocks by Kur Kuath ignited Marquette once again, and they cut the lead as far down as one with under 1:30 left in the game. Illinois went scoreless for over two minutes as the game entered the final minute, and another poor shot by Andre Curbelo led to a foul by Da’Monte Williams on Stevie Mitchell. However, he missed both free throws, giving Illinois the ball with 32 seconds left. Trent Frazier, who’d been having the game of his life to this point, brought the ball up, and this happened:
Marquette, who led a grand total of two minutes and 41 seconds in the second half, shocked Illinois, pulling off the upset 67-66, putting an early stamp on Shaka Smart’s debut season with the Golden Eagles.
Fittingly, the apropos title of this section perfectly described how Marquette won this game. They forced 26 turnovers, seven of which came at the hands of Andre Curbelo including two crucial ones in the final minutes. The turnovers largely masked the Golden Eagles getting dominated on the glass, specifically on the defensive end. Illinois out-rebounded Marquette 52-to-31, and grabbed 20 offensive boards, leading to a handful of avoidable second-chance opportunities.
Kur Kuath and Tyler Kolek played their best games as Golden Eagles. Kuath tallied seven points, five rebounds, and five blocks while Kolek scored 12, dished out five assists, and hauled in five rebounds to go with his game-winning steal and layup.
Player of the Game: Darryl Morsell
Stats: 7-12 FG (3-4 3PT), 21 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
Morsell is the perfect embodiment of Shaka Smart’s ideals as a coach. Defense that creates offense. Morsell was efficient on offense, leading Marquette with 21 points, but it was his defense that made him such a game-changer. Morsell was 2020-21’s Big Ten DPOY, and his on-ball defense is stellar, providing a constant pillar that keeps Shaka Smart’s havoc defense locked in despite an inexperienced team still figuring out the wrinkles of Smart’s defensive scheme. He’s a jack of all trades and tonight’s Player of the Game.