SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Marquette men’s basketball team is ready for the Big East.
Are the upstart Golden Eagles’ press conference ready?
MU ended its non-conference schedule in emphatic fashion with a 79-64 win over Notre Dame at the Joyce Center on Sunday.
Box Score:Marquette 79, Notre Dame 64
The Golden Eagles (8-3) were selected by the league’s coaches for ninth place in the Big East. But add a road win over the Irish (7-3) and a home win over Baylor, which also includes a road loss to ranked rival Purdue and a loss to Mississippi State at neutral ground, to boost MU’s resume. University, and lost home to state rival Wisconsin on the road.
“We just want to win on the road,” MU center Oso Ighodaro said. “We’ve been struggling on the road lately and just finished the game.
“So it’s a great win for us. Of course.”
Oso Igodaro 16 points, 18 rebounds double-double
MU head coach Shaka Smart challenged Ighodaro last week after the Ighodaro center grabbed just four rebounds in a win over North Carolina Central.
“He came into the game and averaged 1.5 offensive rebounds a game,” Smart said. “I just told him ‘You’re selling yourself short, man. You can get at least three games.
“I didn’t know he was going to get seven. He’s very, very capable.”
more:Marquette’s Keeyan Itejere waits patiently until he can make the jump to contributor
more:Oso Ighodaro barely played as a freshman at Marquette. Two years later, Shaka Smart is ready to give him a major role.
The 6-foot-9 Iguodaro responded with 10 rebounds at halftime, including four of his offensive rebounds. He finished with a college-high 18 rebounds and 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
One area where MU could compete with Big East opponents is on the glass, with Iguodaro’s thin frontcourt and undersized center.
“We’re winning games,” Iguodaro said. “I don’t really take it personally. I don’t really understand. I don’t have Twitter anymore. We deleted it, most of the team deleted it this year. So I don’t see the haters.
“We just want to win. We don’t care what anyone else thinks. It’s just us.”
Marquette on defense against Irish
MU and Notre Dame played evenly for most of the first half.
The Golden Eagles took a 34-29 lead going into the break after holding the Irish to one point with no field goals in the final 5:43 of the first half.
“Just a reality check on what needs to be done,” Smart said. “We haven’t played since Tuesday. So we’ve been talking about this game and preparing for this game.
“But when you go out in the game, that’s the reality they have, that’s the way they play. Film is different than live.
“We had some miscommunication early in the first half. But I think our players played throughout the game and I saw desire in their eyes. A pride. Defensive identity. And then as the game went on, they learned They learned how we need to defend those things. Our rotations have gotten better and I think Osso has done a really good job leading us.”
Then, MU scored 7 points at 1:13 before the second half to extend the lead. First, Tyler Kolek (11 points, 6 assists) found Stevie Mitchell with a backdoor pass for a layup. Then Kolek knocked down a step-back 3-pointer and Olivier-Maxence Prosper made a left-handed layup.
MU conceded just three turnovers against Notre Dame, who were looking to slow things down against the high-flying Golden Eagles.
“They’re the kind of team that’s always a little bit of a challenge,” Smart said. “But I think our players have a good passing ability on the offensive end. Really took care of the ball, it was a huge domino.
“And then on the defensive end, we knew it was going to be a lot of possession. The guys did a great job of keeping their stance and focusing.”
Cam Jones continues to showcase his scoring prowess
The 6-foot-8 Prosper scored 14 points, driving to the basket and shooting 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
“Man, he’s improved a lot from last year,” Smart said. “Just being able to break out there, have some level of balance, show the ball, stride and not get pushed out of his position. And he’s been pretty good.”
But 6-4 guard Kam Jones was MU’s offensive star, scoring 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting.
The Irish twice cut the deficit to eight late in the second half, but Jones had the answer both times.
First, he hit a three-pointer from the right corner. He then converted a 3-pointer to give MU a 65-54 lead with just over seven minutes left. The Golden Eagles cruised from there to take the biggest lead, 77-57.
Against Wisconsin, Jones hit a 3-pointer to tie the game into overtime. So when MU needs the basket, the crafty guard becomes MU’s go-to player.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can score,” Jones said. “The ball found me at the right moment today. It was O-Max three games ago. Colek. So we got guys who could really play. That could really score. The ball just found me in the right spot.”
MU and Notre Dame renew rivalry
MU and Notre Dame initiated the Family Agreement announced by the school in 2019.
The two teams hadn’t met since the 2013 Big East Championship quarterfinals before the Irish headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference. They played 119 games, most of them when both schools were independents. Ireland lead the series 81-37.
MU faced only DePaul (131) and UW (129) more than Notre Dame.
This season’s win won’t be mentioned in MU’s winning streak, Doc River’s buzzer-beating win over the Irish at MECCA in 1981, but it’s still an important victory for the Golden Eagles.
“I think the best thing about this game is that it was tight for most of the game,” Smart said. “Earlier in the year, we struggled at times in some close games.
“So I think the way our guys stick out there and keep it together and then extend the lead is a good sign.”