LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After an unbelievably record-setting comeback victory Tuesday night against Iona, the 14-seed BYU men’s basketball team has to shift its focus from celebration to concentration as the Cougars will take on No. 3 seed Marquette on Thursday at the KFC Yum Center.
The Cougars(26-8) will need to push the tempo and play intense defense if they are to move past the Big East opponent into the next round of the NCAA Tournament. The win against the Gaels gives the Cougars their third straight season with a tournament victory, and they look to continue that success.“All of us are excited to be here,” junior forward Brandon Davies said. “We’re excited for a chance to play another game and do our best to get another win.”
On paper, BYU has the statistical edge in almost every category. The Cougars have a slight edge in shooting percentages, rebounding and blocks. The strength of both teams is in sharing the ball, with BYU ranking sixth in the nation in assists per game, while Marquette ranks seventh.
The Golden Eagles (25-7) are led by senior Big East player of the year Jae Crowder, who averages 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds a game, while senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom contributes 18.5 points per game. Marquette is also known for having talented bench play, where they are likely to rotate multiple players in at almost every break in the game.
“They’re a very talented team,” Davies said. “They have a lot of fire power. It’s going to take our best effort to come out and play our best game to get a win. (Crowder’s) a great player. It’s going to take a lot to get him stopped, but he’s surrounded by a bunch of them as well.”
However, the Cougars’ strength is in pushing the tempo of the game and scoring in transition, something that the Golden Eagles have struggled with in a few games, as their offense is more patient and utilizes defensive stops to spark their quick baskets. In a Big East tournament game last week, Marquette was handed a crippling loss at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals, who forced a season-high 26 turnovers through swarming defense and up-tempo offense. The Cougars will need to play as aggressive on both sides of the ball in order to have the same outcome.
“I think offensively we’re similar to Louisville,” junior guard Brock Zylstra said. “That’s something we like to do, and we’re hoping it causes some challenges for them. We’re just going to play our game and try to get it fast-paced.”
BYU is led by its two post players, senior forward Noah Hartsock and Davies, who both scored in double figures in the play-in game against Iona. However, it is the defensive side of the ball that ultimately won the game against the Gaels, and it will need to be the key to this tournament matchup as well.
“Transition defense is a huge key for us,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “We have to do a better job of getting that ball stopped early. We can’t give them easy baskets. We’re going to have to make them take contested shots and rebound the ball. They’re very athletic, so trying to limit them to one shot will be a real challenge.”
Rose and Marquette head coach Buzz Williams know each other well from their time as assistant head coaches at BYU and Colorado State, respectively, and the game proves to be an interesting contest between two friends.
“We just kind of struck up a friendship and have been involved in quite a few things off the floor for quite a few seasons,” Rose said. “It’s nice to have friends in the business where you kind of relate during the difficult times. I cheer for Buzz all year long because I enjoy watching his team play. It’s difficult when it’s time to play each other.”
The game will tip off at 12:45 p.m. MST, and the winner will move on to play the winner of No. 6 Murray State and No. 11 Colorado State on Saturday.
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