Yes, Marquette's season has come down to desperate measures for desperate times and all that, but there was a method to coach Buzz Williams' radical lineup shakeup Thursday night. He started two freshmen, JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton, while substituting like a hockey coach in the 61-50 victory against Providence. Winners of five straight, the Friars may have been the Big East's hottest team, but they were also vulnerable with their thin rotation. So Williams threw wave after wave of fresh players at Providence (15-6, 5-3) eroding it and holding it to 14 points in the first half as Marquette withstood a 16-0 run from the Friars in the second half to win a game that allowed the Golden Eagles (12-9, 4-4) to salvage their season for another day. "I don't care how old you are," Williams said. "Let's see if this works. Providence is playing with six players. We have 11, 10 of which played double-figure minutes. I thought if we could come in waves with energy, playing full court defensively and offensively, we could score in transition." The Golden Eagles did that. Twenty-six points off the break was a season high. The new look also addressed a roster imbalance that has been a season-long issue. After 21 games, Williams did more than tweak it. "Some of our best offensive players are our worst defensive players. Some of our best defensive players are our worst offensive players," he said. "So, running them in waves the way we did in the first half was kind of a balance of all of it. "Not who started, not how old they are, not where they're from, not what they did the last game or the game before, but what gives us our best chance today from start to finish to win?" There was also this . . . "Some of it is, here's your chance," Williams said. "What are you going to do with it?" The Golden Eagles almost let it slip away during Providence's furious rally, but they never gave in. Williams said his only disappointment was hearing boos from the BMO Bradley Center crowd while Marquette's 19-point second half lead almost completely disappeared. "I know our fans were booing at our kids, which maybe is as disappointed as I've been since I've been here," Williams said. "Our kids try. Our kids try. I want to handle it the right way. "What you don't know is who our kids are as human beings, or their stories that led them here. Without being a complete jerk, I think it speaks to who our kids are as human beings. Teams are going to score points. We held them to 25 points under their average." Point guard Derrick Wilson, who played his best game of the season with eight assists, said he did not hear the boos. But he was completely aware of the lift the team received out of the gate with Burton and Johnson. "Their aggression," Wilson said. "Their athleticism. JuJaun, at one point they couldn't run a dribble handoff. Deonte is so strong and athletic and talented, that helped us out a lot, too." For the first time in six games, Williams did not start leading scorer Davante Gardner, who played 25 minutes, scored a team-high 14 points and made timely free throws late in the game. Williams said he wasn't sure which lineup he'd use Saturday at St. John's in a pre-Super Bowl doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. "I'm not saying it's a game-to-game thing, but I think it worked out OK," Williams said. Providence coach Ed Cooley concurred. "Credit Marquette for showing mental toughness," he said. "I don't think we could have been worse offensively. We were rushed, but you have to credit Marquette's defense. We were playing a team that was very desperate."
Marquette shakes up lineup, downs Providence
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | Jan 31