MILWAUKEE - Marquette’s student body treated Notre Dame to chants of Roll Tide! and Al-a-ba-ma!, and mixed in a few Manti Te’o girlfriend references along the way for good measure.
The Golden Eagles were just as rude, at least until the stretch run of the second half when they turned the ball over, missed free throws, and generally gave the Irish every opportunity to pull within striking distance after maintaining a double-digit lead most of the game.
Everybody, that is, except Jamil Wilson, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half to help Marquette hold off the Irish, 72-64.
The closest the Irish (22-7, 10-6) could get to the No. 21/20 Golden Eagles (21-7, 12-4) was six points with less than 30 seconds remaining before the home team claimed its 25th straight victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Senior Day.
Although the Irish turned the ball over just four times in the second half, nine first-half miscues led to 14 fast-break points, and Notre Dame never could dig deep enough into the deficit, which reached 16 points on several occasions.
“What was disappointing for us and the key to (the loss) was the way we turned the ball over, especially in the first half,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey. “Most of their fast-break points were off turnovers and you’re digging out of a hole on the road against a good team.
“I love the way we dug out and made it interesting. But that was too much to overcome. You have to give credit to Marquette. They’ve always defended us very athletically, especially here.”
Notre Dame shot just 38.3 percent from the field while Marquette got off to a sizzling start and finished at 59.6 percent. Particularly hot was 6-foot-11 Chris Otule, who made all eight of his field-goal attempts to finish with a season-high 16 points. Otule was 5-of-5 in the first half as the Golden Eagles built a 41-27 halftime lead.
“I know that Cooley didn’t play and I know he’s been sick,” said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams. “But Chris changes the complexion of the team when he was as dominant as he was today.”
Cooley was relishing the opportunity to go head-to-head with Otule and 6-foot-8, 290-pound Davante Gardner, who tossed in 26 points in Marquette’s victory over Syracuse. But the flu bug bit Notre Dame’s leading scorer and rebounder late in the week. Cooley finished with no points and just one rebound in 15 minutes of action.
“Jack was in the infirmary and didn’t practice for two days,” Brey said. “We got him off an IV (Friday). In hindsight, I wonder if I should have even brought him on this trip. Virus, flu, throwing up, diarrhea…He wanted to try it, and obviously he just wasn’t there. The second half, I just said, ‘Forget it. Let’s get him home and get him healthy for Tuesday.’”
Picking up the pace in Cooley’s absence was freshman Zach Auguste, who scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and five rebounds. But it wasn’t enough with Cooley, Garrick Sherman and Pat Connaughton a combined 0-of-10 from the field. Grant finished with a game-high 21 points and Atkins chipped in 16.
“I love what Zach Auguste gave us,” Brey said. “He continues to show us some things. But it was kind of a Catch 22. You worry about them in the paint, and then they’re making threes in the first half.”
If there was one thing that Marquette had not done well this season, it was shoot three-pointers. The Golden Eagles came into the game converting less than 30 percent from beyond the arc.
They hit 4-of-6 in the first half en route to a double-digit lead at the 14:42 mark, and maintained that double-digit lead from 9:08 of the first half until 7:30 remained in the game. Marquette would finish 5-of-11 from three-point range.
As they did on their previous road trip, the Irish got off to a slow start. Not as slow as the 19-3 deficit at Pittsburgh on Feb. 18, but slow enough - 12-3 - to prompt Brey to call a timeout before the first TV intermission.
Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins combined for 17 points in the first half, but also had four turnovers between them, which got the Marquette running game going. Notre Dame won the rebounding game, 36-25, despite Cooley’s absence. But the Irish lacked the interior game until Auguste scored 12 second-half points.
“It made a huge difference,” said Marquette’s Junior Cadougan of Cooley’s absence. “He doesn’t fall for fakes. He solidly rebounds. Him not in the game made it way easier for us.”
Marquette finished with more turnovers (15) than Notre Dame (13). But the timing and impact of the miscues in the first half built an insurmountable deficit.
“We were getting in the lane, we were jump passing, and balls were getting deflected,” Grant said. “After that, we started being aggressive, going to the lane, getting lay-ups and looking for our shots.”
“The last couple times on the road, people have scored right away on us,” said Atkins, who added six assists to go along with his 16 points. “We have to do better at that. Mentally, it hurts you when you’re on the road and scored on so easily.”
The Irish frittered away too many opportunities in the second half. They finally cut it to nine with 7:30 remaining, and then whittled it to eight twice. Otule missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Grant missed two-of-three free throws when he was fouled shooting from beyond the arc. A Sherman offensive rebound quickly became a turnover.
“I don’t know,” said Brey when asked about another slow start on the road. “I give (Marquette) a lot of credit. When they get two buckets in the paint to start, that just sets a heckuva tone, and it seemed like it was so hard for us to score.”