Marquette basketball: Jake Thomas silences critics, leads Golden Eagles to third straight win

jake-thomas

Jake Thomas led Marquette to an 81-72 win versus Xavier on Saturday (Photo Credit: Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Jake Thomas proved me wrong. On Saturday, Thomas gave the proverbial middle finger to his “haters”. He hit a career-high six 3-pointers and finished with 18 points, leading the Marquette Golden Eagles (15-10, 7-5) to a 81-72 victory over the Xavier Musketeers (17-8, 7-5).

It was a must-win game for the Golden Eagles, who played in front of a season-high 18,644 fans on National Marquette Day.

Two three-pointers from Thomas and one from Jamil Wilson put Marquette ahead 19-8 early on.

Xavier got within six points in the first half, but once again Marquette converted on free throws and had a 10-point advantage at halftime.

The second half began with Thomas going three-for-three from long range. He’s had the Musketeers’ number this season, shooting 52-percent from three in their two meetings.

A Wilson 3-pointer put Marquette ahead by a game high 13 points. But Golden Eagle fans should know better than to be confident with a lead.

With 2:09 remaining, Xavier’s Justin Martin hit a 3-pointer and cut Marquette’s lead to four points (75-71). But the Golden Eagles were able to hold onto the lead.

Devante Gardner, Todd Mayo and Wilson each made two free throws to seal the game. They allowed just one point the rest of the way and went on to win 81-72.

Gardner and Wilson both finished with 16 points, while Mayo chipped in off the bench with 13.

With March looming, it was a big win. With an overall record of 15-10 and a conference record of 7-5, every victory goes a long way. The Golden Eagles have six games remaining, and for the first time all season are riding a three game winning streak. And for those curious about what analysts think, Marquette has finally made an appearance in early “bubble” talks.

The good…

  • Marquette made 24-of-27 free throws and outscored Xavier by nine points from the line (15-of-21). Throughout the last two games, the Golden Eagles have vastly improved their free throw shooting and it’s been a key factor in the win streak. In its last two games, Marquette shot 89-percent (54-of-61) and outscored opponents by an astonishing 31 points from the line.
  • Early in the season, they proved incapable of holding onto leads and blew games with poor second half performances. It seems they’ve finally turned the tide and are putting games away with their pressure defense and free throws.
  • Marquette has used fast starts in its last three games to jump out to early leads.
  • The Golden Eagles forced 19 turnovers (10 steals), which were turned into 27 points. On offense, they protected the ball well and turned it over just five times. In three games (Butler, Seton Hall, Xavier), the defense has forced 56 turnovers. In two meetings this season, Xavier forced 11 Marquette turnovers, while the Golden Eagles benefited off of 31 for the Musketeers.

    derrick-wilson

    Derrick Wilson has a lot to do with Marquette’s three game win streak. (Photo Credit: Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

  • Derrick Wilson has shown he is a viable point guard. On Saturday, he had nine points, six steals and four assists in 39-minutes. Speaking of minutes, he leads the team in that category (29.92 mpg). Wilson doesn’t get enough credit for the job that he does. He has very quick cuts to the basket and has been a lot more aggressive recently.
  • Marquette shot 50-percent from 3-point range (9-of-18), accounting for 27 points. Even Steve Taylor Jr. hit one in his six-minutes of play.
  • Different players are stepping up and contributing in games. Mayo, Gardner, Wilson and now Thomas have shown the ability to lead the team to victory.
  • The BMO Harris Center was rocking on Saturday. The upper bowl was almost all the way full. It’s good to see that winning has led to higher attendance. They’ll need to keep it up on Wednesday when #11 Creighton comes to town.

The bad…

  • For the second time in as many games, Marquette had a lower field goal percentage than its opponents. Xavier shot 54-percent from the field, while Marquette shot 46-percent. Poor shooting continues to be a factor, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. They’ve shown they don’t need to shoot better than their opponent to win the game. It’s not going to change overnight, so they have to do a better job of managing their possessions.
  • Sensing a momentum swing with 2:09 left, head coach Buzz Williams called a timeout and set-up a play. What came next was a Thomas 3-point attempt very early into the shot clock. Down the stretch, a lot of Marquette’s plays consisted of ill-advised shots early into the shot clock. This isn’t something new and it’s something they must improve upon for any chance at a tournament berth.
  • The lineup continues to be inconsistent. John Dawson didn’t play at all, while JaJuan Johnson was limited to two minutes. I guess as long as their winning, we shouldn’t complain about the disparities, but it’s just not the typical style we see from Buzz.
  • Once again, they shot too many 3-pointers. Thomas was on fire for most of the game and they shot 50-percent from deep, so technically I shouldn’t be a critic. But it’s annoying when a badly timed 3-point shot ruins whatever momentum they’ve garnered. They have to work down the shot clock a lot more than they do and eliminate bad shots. Even after the good long-range shooting performance on Saturday, Marquette still ranks 320th in the nation.

The week ahead…

Marquette hosts #18 Creighton on Wednesday (February 19) and looks to keep their win streak going. In the Big East opener on New Years Eve, Marquette was thrashed by Creighton. They lost 67-49 in a game that was basically over from the tip-off. I’m not going to say this is a must-win game…but it’s an excellent opportunity to gain a lot of ground in the conference standings and add a quality win to their résumé.

It won’t be easy against a team led Doug McDermott. He scored 39 points on Saturday and has shown all season that he can’t be stopped. It’s a matter of slowing him and getting him into foul trouble early. On offense, they have to go right after McDermott and force him to make mistakes. They held him to 19 points in the first meeting, which by his standards isn’t a lot.

On Saturday (February 22), Marquette will travel to Illinois to take on rival DePaul (10-16, 2-11). The two teams have faced each other 105 times with Marquette winning the most recent meeting by a score 66-56.

If the Golden Eagles can win these two games, they’ll be in a good position to make a run at an NCAA tournament berth.

If you asked me one month ago if I thought Marquette would make the tournament, I’d say you’re crazy. But solid play has made the final six games a lot more exciting.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s to never count Marquette out.

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