Phew! SIUE definitely kept this one interesting. Marquette could never quite pull away but squeezed out an 88-77 victory over the visiting adversary.
Marquette features mostly new faces, the only key returnee who played significant minutes tonight (Greg Elliott is serving a suspension for a disciplinary matter) was Justin Lewis who finished with 17 points and 10 boards. Fifth-year senior and Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell stepped up to lead Marquette with 21 points. He is clearly a veteran presence Marquette will need on both sides of the ball (he was the Big 10’s defensive player of the year last season).
George Mason transfer Tyler Kolek did not shoot the ball like Marquette fans would have liked (2-8 from the field, 0-3 from 3), but ran the offense well and led the team with 9 assists. Top-100 recruit Stevie Mitchell looked very comfortable in his first collegiate game coming off the bench. He finished with 14 points (5-10) while adding 4 assists and only 1 turnover. Oso Ighodaro brought some energy in 23 minutes off the bench after redshirting last season.
The Golden Eagles held SIUE to 2-14 from 3 and forced 24 turnovers, so how did they let SIEU stay in the game and score 77 points? While their defense featured a lot of energy and created a lot of “havoc,” it was also erratic. Playing Shaka Smart’s pressure defense requires the team to be very in sync with one another and that just wasn’t the case consistently enough. Despite collecting 9 steals and 5 blocks, Marquette missed on too many steal and block attempts. This gave SIUE too many easy looks at the basket. This defense will take time to master and hopefully they can get there before Big East play.
Shaka Smart had incredible success with big men at Texas. Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba, Jaxson Hayes, and Kai Jones were all first-round picks who are still in the NBA. This could lead you to have relatively high hopes for the 6’10” big man Kur Kuath who Smart got to transfer to Marquette from Oklahoma. Kuath looked out of place for Marquette and had no dominance on the glass (2 rebounds). Hopefully, Kuath will find more comfort in Smart’s playing style in games to come.
In the offseason for Marquette, there was no secret what Smart wanted the offense strategy to be: threes and dunks. Smart wants high-efficiency shots. Tonight, 87% (59/68) of the Golden Eagle’s shots were either a three, layup, or dunk attempt. As the defense gets better and applies pressure more effectively, I expect that will only help produce more “Smart” shots for Marquette.