Marquette men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams wants to know what else his team has to prove.
Not even 30 minutes had passed since the Golden Eagles convincingly dropped Louisville, 69-48, when Williams was asked if his team would be able to recharge enough to take on Notre Dame come Saturday. A 21-point blowout over an NCAA-caliber team and Williams still had to answer questions about whether his team is good enough for the Big Dance.
He’s used to it by now. After the Big Three departed last season, whispers of doubt began to float through the air. Marquette was picked to finish 12th in the Big East before the season started. Then the team lost stud freshman point guard Junior Cadougan. Then Chris Otule. Then Jeronne Maymon. Then Youssoupha Mbao.
But with virtually a seven-man rotation, all of whom stand under 6-foot-7 and weigh less than 225 pounds, the Golden Eagles knocked out a string of five straight wins and have now won nine of their last 10 contests.
Marquette now sits at 20-9, with an 11-6 Big East record — good enough for fifth in the conference. Perhaps no one but Williams saw that coming.
Nevertheless, there he was, still trying to convince detractors that his group of overachievers can play, wondering why the clinic the Golden Eagles just put on against Louisville wasn’t enough.
Marquette’s top two scorers, Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler, each played just 13 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Even without those two, the Golden Eagles mounted an 11-3 run to close the half, putting Marquette up 33-23. Led by junior reserve Joseph Fulce, it added another 13 points after half — including seven straight from Fulce — before the Cardinals could answer back. The lead was a nice change from the recent overtime bouts.
“Being up 20 points, it was a good feeling,” senior guard Maurice Acker said. “We were able to just calm down, relax, run the offense, we didn’t have to force it.”
Louisville’s 48 points was its lowest total of the season, and it was the first time all season Rick Pitino’s squad was held without a single player in double digits. Louisville’s 37 percent shooting effort was the second lowest field goal percentage Marquette has forced in conference play this season.
“Louisville’s a great team and we didn’t expect to beat them like that,” sophomore guard Darius Johnson-Odom said.
So back to whether the team will be ready for the Fighting Irish Saturday.
“Nobody thought we’d show up tonight either,” Williams said.
“When we played South Florida, they were the hottest team in the league, leading scorer in the country, etc., etc.,” he said. “And then when we beat them, it was, ‘Well, you’ve got to beat a tournament team.’ Then you play three games on the road in seven days. They’re all in overtime and you win all of them, and they say, ‘Well, whatever happens with you and Louisville, one of you is on the bubble, and that’s y’all’s fourth game in nine days, and they got all these guys, and you’re just a ragtag group of coaches and players.’
“We’ll show up.”
Tip off is at 1 p.m.