In what can be described only as a nightmare game, Marquette was bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. This time around it was a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State to the tune of 61-49 in the East Regional opener. Jerel McNeal again did not play due to his thumb injury, and that didn't help the Golden Eagles — but it still didn't account for the sluggish MU start.
The Golden Eagles were never in the contest and were actually held scoreless for the first 9 minutes and change of the first half. MU did not lead once in the #8 vs. #9 match-up.
Dominic James led MU with 18 points, and Wes Matthews Jr. added 10. David Cubillan came off the bench to score 9 points; no other Golden Eagle was able to manage more than 6.
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Michigan State was led by stifling defensive pressure and 14 points from Raymar Morgan. Marquise Gray and Drew Neitzel each added 12 points for the #9-seeded Spartans.
MSU shot 53% from the floor compared to MU's 32%. The most telling statistic, though, was Marquette's pathetic 10-29 from the 3-point line. Not only was it bad shooting, but it was also telling that MU needed to shoot that many 3s because they were behind from the opening tip.
MU came out of the gate colder than a Milwaukee winter, unable to put a single point on the board until Cubillan sank a 3 at the 10:21 mark of the first half. By that point, Michigan State already had a 14-3 lead and never looked back.
MU was able to somewhat recover from its slow start, and at the 6:07 mark of the half, the Golden Eagles pulled within 5 on a James 3-pointer to make it 20-15. But that was as close as they would come to making it a game.
Marred by inconsistent play and a lack of defensive intensity over the last 6 minutes, MU could muster only an additional 3 points and had fallen behind 30-18 by the end of the half.
The second half was no better for the Golden Eagles.
Harkening back to the offensively challenged teams at the end of the Mike Deane era, MU continued to struggle to score — although the Golden Eagles played better defense in the second half.
The second stanza seemed to start more promising than the first, with MU scoring in the first 33 seconds. But it was just a tease, as MU scored only 4 points in the first four-and-a-half minutes to fall even further back at 37-22. James ended the drought with a basket at the 15:45 mark, pulling MU to 37-24.
It was not like MSU was a scoring machine, and if the Golden Eagles had even a decent night shooting, they would have been in the game and had a chance to win — but this was far from a decent night.
With 5 minutes left in the contest, MSU was in total control at 52-38. It wasn't until there was less than a minute to play in the game that MU made it interesting with a 6 point micro-run to pull the Golden Eagles to a somewhat respectable 61-49 final score.
· Marquette needed McNeal so badly during this game. With his intensity and ability to drive to the basket, he would have given the Golden Eagles another option.
· James continues to struggle with his outside shot, and I hope it does not carry over into the off-season.
· I still believe that MU is a better team than MSU, but you have to show it on the floor.
· Dan Fitzgerald found his stroke at MSG, but then lost it big time against MSU.
· I just wanted to point out that I picked MU as a #8 seed in the East Region in my last observations section — but it sucks to be right in this case.
· Matthews played OK, but we needed more from him in such a big game.
· Tom Crean has to be sick to his stomach this morning: If he was one practice injury less, he could be mapping out a strategy to beat North Carolina.
· Tom Izzo vs. Crean didn't live up to its billing, which is why I didn't even mention it in my article. 1-0, teacher over student.