LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Cougars gave it a valiant effort but simply dug too deep a hole during the first half. Against inferior opponents, such as Iona, BYU could get away with it but not against a team like Marquette.
The Golden Eagles hit the Cougars in the mouth early and then answered every run BYU mounted for the duration. They eventually pulled away to win big 88-68 – advancing to the second round to match up against Murray State.
Cougars get crowded early
The Cougars learned early that although they enjoyed a considerable size advantage down low, for the second game in a row, Marquette poised a much stiffer challenge. Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies had their early opportunities, but the Golden Eagles proved very physical and aggressive with their defense which gave BYU problems early.
Marquette jumped out early to a 14-4 lead at the 16-minute mark with Big East player of the year Jae Crowder, causing the Cougars’ fits. He hit all three of his field goals during the first four minutes while pulling down seven rebounds.
The 6-6 Crowder looked to be a tough matchup for the Cougars on paper and that bore out. He finished the half with 17 points and 10 rebounds despite spending much of the last five minutes on the bench due to foul trouble.
The Cougars were able to get back into the game, closing the score to 22-14 with Nate Austin providing a boost off the bench. Austin accounted for two blocked shots, a made 20-footer and took a charge in his first two minutes of play.
Shortly after BYU's run, Hartsock picked up his third foul at the 9:24 mark and was forced to the bench.
BYU had ample opportunity to make it just a 10-point margin at the half, but after a Craig Cusick 3-point attempt rimmed out, Marquette took it the length of the court to hit a lay-up at the buzzer – taking a 47-34 lead into the half.
Rebounding and turnovers were the story for much of the first half. After 10 minutes of play Marquette enjoyed an 8-3 edge in offensive rebounds and a 16-5 edge in total rebounds with a 1-7 edge in turnovers.
BYU came out aggressive in the second half, forcing eight Marquette turnovers in the first seven minutes, finding itself down just 60-52. The Golden Eagles answered the Cougar run with nine straight points which gave a framework for how the rest of the game would go.
While BYU was able to sustain runs against a team like Iona, that certainly wasn't the case against a team as talented as Marquette. Every blow BYU would give the Golden Eagles was answered, eventually winning the game going away.
Crowder was again huge in the second half – finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds and three steals on the afternoon. The player who stepped up big for the Golden Eagles was forward Davante Gardner, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds, holding his own against Brandon Davies down low.
Davies and Hartsock both kept BYU in the game for the most part with Craig Cusick providing a huge boost off the bench, but it wasn't enough. The Cougars simply dug themselves too big of a hole to come back against Marquette.
Missed free throws reared its ugly head as well, with BYU – particularly Davies – unable to connect on crucial foul attempts in the second half.
BYU will go into the offseason with a lot of promise toward next year – returning everyone save Hartsock and Charles Abouo, while adding a couple of new pieces. The future looks bright for Coach Dave Rose and his troops.