Louisville, Ky. • For the BYU Cougars in their NCAA Tournament game against beastly Marquette of the Big East Conference on Thursday, the effort was there, and so was the dogged determination that made this season a successful one despite the loss of the great Jimmer Fredette.
But so was the penchant for poor starts, the inability to defend well on the perimeter, and the nagging ankle injury that has limited leading scorer Noah Hartsock for almost a month.
Add it all up, and the West Region’s third-seeded Golden Eagles cruised to an 88-68 win over the overmatched, 14th-seeded Cougars at KFC Yum! Center in front of 16,069 semi-interested fans and a national television audience.
“Marquette was just too good today,” said BYU coach Dave Rose.
And the Cougars were far from perfect, something they probably needed to be to knock off a team that has resided in college basketball’s top-10 rankings for much of the season.
Marquette scored the game’s final 10 points to make it appear more lopsided than it actually was, but make no mistake: The Big East runner-up controlled the contest from the onset, never trailed, and was never really in danger of being the victim of an early-round upset.
The Cougars, who finished the season 26-9 but lost three of their final six games — after Hartsock suffered the left leg injury against Santa Clara — trimmed a 19-point deficit to six just five minutes into the second half. BYU trailed by 10 with three minutes left, but could never get that one big play to rattle the Golden Eagles.
“When we made a run at them, they always seemed to come back with a big shot, a big basket, somewhere,” Rose said. “ … We had a lot of opportunities that we could have converted, here or there, where we could have got over the hump and maybe challenged them there at the end.”
True enough, but this game was really lost in the first five minutes — just as the WCC semifinal against Gonzaga was and Tuesday’s win over Iona almost was.
Marquette took an 18-5 lead on a dunk by future pro Jae Crowder (25 points, 16 rebounds, thousands of new admirers), and the Cougars were cooked.
Hartsock, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half after sitting on the bench with three fouls for most of the first half, took a stab at why the Cougars got off to another bad start, saying, “It just happens. … sometimes it is just how the game flows,” while Rose sort of sidestepped the question.
“I think we’ve played some pretty good teams,” he said, by far his shortest answer at the podium in the postgame news conference.
Hartsock had no rebounds, which Rose attributed to the bum ankle.
Trailing 49-34 at halftime, the Cougars’ best stretch came just after the break, when they held Marquette to a single point on eight possessions. Brandon Davies (19 points, 12 rebounds) did the heavy lifting, and when Charles Abouo hit a 3-pointer with 15:26 remaining, it was 52-46. Marquette answered by scoring on its next five possessions.
“We’re up 15 at half, made a really big play the last possession of the half, and I told our team, as soon as I walked in, ‘Guys, their coach was supposed to die of cancer. They’re not going to quit,’ ” said Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
Along with getting outscored 36-22 in the paint, getting outrebounded 48-34 and giving up 16 offensive rebounds that led to an 18-5 advantage in second-chance points for Marquette, the Cougars had 17 costly turnovers and watched guards Brock Zylstra and Matt Carlino combine to go 4 for 16 from the field with eight turnovers.
“We didn’t leave anything out there,” Zylstra said, “and I think that would be a worse feeling to have in knowing that you could have gave more. … They were just better today, but at least we didn’t have anything left in the tank to give.”
R In short • Marquette easily handles BYU in an NCAA Tournament game, plowing past the Cougars from start to finish in a 20-point win.
Key moment • For the third straight game, BYU falls behind early, trailing Marquette 18-5 just five minutes into the game.
Key stat • The Golden Eaglesoutscore BYU 36-22 in the paint and 18-5 on second-chance points.