MILWAUKEE (AP) — Two freshmen helped get Marquette off to an energetic start. Two seniors helped finish off a crucial win.
In between there were nearly six harrowing minutes during which Marquette found itself on the wrong side of a 16-0 run. A few fans even showered the hometown team with boos.
But the 19-point deficit was too large to overcome for the Providence Friars, and the Golden Eagles held on for a 61-50 win that snapped their opponent’s five-game winning streak.
“They always say basketball is a game of runs,” junior guard Derrick Wilson said. “It’s how can we stand that or how can we make a stop. Today we did.”
Davante Gardner scored 14 points and Wilson had eight assists in what coach Buzz Williams said might have been the best game of his point guard’s career. Marquette (12-9, 4-4 Big East) flustered Providence early and capitalized on a double-digit cushion built by forcing 11 first-half turnovers.
Maybe this will jump-start Marquette’s chances in the league in which they were considered the preseason favorites. Williams inserted Deonte Burton and Jujuan Johnson into the starting lineup, and the athletic freshmen helped get the Golden Eagles off to a hot start in which they substituted in waves against Providence’s limited roster.
“I don’t care how old you are. Just let’s see if this works,” Williams said. “We’re playing the hottest team in the league … let’s all rally together and see if we can create some energy.”
The athletic Burton finished with nine points and six rebounds in 15 minutes. Johnson played 12 minutes and forced Providence into mistakes on dribble handoffs on two straight first-half possessions.
It was 31-14 at halftime, but Marquette nearly frittered away the huge advantage as Providence’s pressure got to the Golden Eagles.
“It’s no secret that we were struggling so we had to try and change the tempo of the game and try to get us into the game,” coach Ed Cooley said. “So we tried to press a little bit to get ourselves some energy.”
The teams reversed fortunes after halftime with the Golden Eagles having trouble making shots and getting sloppy under pressure for a while. A three-point play by LaDontae Henton (18 points) got Providence (15-6, 5-3) within 37-34 with 11:33 left to the big run
But Marquette settled down with seniors Gardner and Jamil Wilson (11 points) getting key buckets down the stretch.
Gardner followed a bucket with two fouls shots with 1:41 left to get the lead back to eight, and Bryce Cotton lost the ball for a turnover on the next possession to seal Marquette’s 10th straight win in the series.
Todd Mayo added eight points, including two foul shots with 48.6 seconds left to put the lead at nine.
Henton went scoreless in the first half before going 8 of 12 after halftime to spark the Friars inside, while Cotton led all scorers with 20 points. The loss dropped Providence two games back in the loss column behind Creighton and Villanova at the top of the Big East standings.
The Friars haven’t beaten Marquette since 2007, though they came close to snapping the skid in the most dramatic of ways after trailing by double digits for most of the first 21 minutes.
Providence had more turnovers than field goals (five) in a first half in which it shot 18 percent.
“I don’t think we could have played worse, if there’s even a word,” Cooley said. “Worser?”
The shots finally started falling after halftime.
The quick Cotton hit two buckets to follow Tyler Harris’s 3 from the corner over two defenders to get within 37-31 before Henton’s three-point play.
But Cooley’s team couldn’t get the whole way back from a frustrating first half. It was the fewest points and lowest field-goal percentage allowed in a half this season by the Golden Eagles.
The physical defense had Providence out of sorts, but the Friars also missed their share of open looks against a Marquette team that at times changed players like hockey line changes.
“I thought particularly in the first half, we could somewhat come in waves with energy,” Williams said. “Some of it is, here’s your chance, what are going to do with it?”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.