March 9, 2007

The Pitts

On Thursday night the dream of a Big East Tournament title ended for Marquette at the hands of Pittsburgh. Poor shooting and foul trouble marred the evening for the Golden Eagles, which had previously beaten Pitt twice in the regular season.

The poor shooting came from Dominic James, who has now been mired in a month-long shooting slump. James was a little better against Pitt than his 2-12 outing against St. John's in the opening game, but not much. James was 5-12 from the field and posted 16 points.

Wesley Matthews Jr. posted 19 points in the game, and Dan Fitzgerald matched his career high with 20. Lazar Hayward added 11 points, but the rest of the team managed to post only 13.

Pitt center Aaron Gray posted a team-high 22 points and was very active in the game, not allowing the MU defense to get into his body or its offense to draw him out of the lane. But he was not alone. Sam Young came off the bench and added 17 slashing points that really broke the back of the Marquette defense.

Mike Cook added 16 points, Levance Fields pitched in 13 more, and Antonio Graves added 10, putting five Pitt players in double figures for the contest.

Scoring was not the only problem for MU - turnovers and a combined 8-24 from the 3-point line added to the misery. Foul trouble was also an area of concern, with Pitt going 27-41 from the charity stripe compared to 17-19 for MU.

Pitt will now advance to Friday's semifinal round and face Louisville. Georgetown will face Notre Dame in the other semifinal.

First half:

The score at the half was 40-37 Pitt, but it really wasn't that close of a game. MU looked sluggish on defense and seemed to really miss the defensive intensity that Jerel McNeal, who is still out with a thumb injury, provides the squad.

The only players who brought their A-games were Matthews and Fitzgerald. It was by their sheer will alone that MU was as close as it was when the halftime horn blew.

For Pitt it was Gray, along with what seemed like a cast of thousands that took it to Marquette. Inside there was no answer to Gray, and outside Fields and Cook blew up the MU defense, slashing to the basket or hitting wide-open jumpers.

MU's James was not even able to score until the diminutive point guard hit two free throws at the 11:16 mark of the period. James was able to finish the half with a mini 5-point run to pull the Golden Eagles within 3, but it was not looking good for the birds as the horn sounded.

Second half:

Things went from bad to worse for MU right from the start of the second stanza. Cook, Gray and Graves all started hitting everything they threw at the rim, and the MU defense seemed to only foul.

By the 15:16 mark of the half, Pitt had extended its lead to 8, and by the 10-minute mark, the lead had ballooned to 10.

Tom Crean sensed that James was not playing his normal game and benched the point guard in the second half for an extended period. But that really didn't matter. There was just no answer to the balanced Pitt attack, and with less than 4 minutes to go, the Panthers had amassed a 79-65 lead.

A small MU flurry at the end made the score a respectable 89-79, but the game was not really that close.

Observations:

Marquette may move the ball a little better without McNeal, but his defensive intensity was sorely missed against Pitt.
James' struggle with his outside shot continues. The problem now seems to be confidence; he passed up or hesitated on shots that earlier in the season he would have pulled the trigger on.
I hope I still believe that it was better to win the first game against St. John's and then lose to Pitt. With James' confidence at an all-time low, he may have needed another game to build some back up.
Fitzgerald has found his stroke at MSG; now he must keep it going while MU waits for its NCAA bid.
With the loss to Pittsburgh, I see a #8 seed for Marquette in the NCAA tournament, probably now in the East region.
Matthews put up another solid all-around game for MU, his second of the tournament. I'm excited to see what kind of a player he will be by his senior year.
Crean used his rotation to perfection in the absence of McNeal in the St. John's game - but there was no one willing or able to step off the bench and make magic against Pitt.
There is still no word on McNeal's availability for the NCAA tournament, but it is getting scary.
The Pitt Panther mascot looks like a wet house cat - so at least we won the best mascot in that game, and the season series 2-1.



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