MILWAUKEE — While Marquette has surged into Big East title contention due to the efficiency of its offense, the 14th-ranked Golden Eagles showed Saturday they also can win with defense.
Tyler Kolek had 13 points and eight assists as Marquette overcame a sluggish performance and defeated Butler 60-52 on Saturday for its fifth consecutive victory.
“Obviously not one of our better offensive games, but the defensive effort was terrific," Marquette coach Shaka Smart said.
Marquette (19-5, 11-2 Big East) remains tied for first place in the conference standings with No. 16 Xavier, which trounced St. John’s 96-71 later Saturday.
The Golden Eagles have won 10 of their last 11 games, and their only loss in that stretch was an 80-76 decision at Xavier on Jan. 15. The two teams meet again Feb. 15 at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
Marquette entered Saturday leading all Division I teams in adjusted offensive efficiency, a metric measured by college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy that essentially translates to points scored per 100 possessions when adjusted for the level of competition. But the Golden Eagles weren't nearly as effective as usual on that end of the floor Saturday.
Although they couldn't pull away from a Butler team that had lost each of its last four games by at least 21 points, the Golden Eagles got enough stops down the stretch to win.
Butler (11-13, 3-10) had the ball while trailing by six a handful of times in the last three minutes, but Marquette didn't allow the Bulldogs to score on any of those possessions.
“We have to be vicious,” said Chase Ross, who added 10 points for Marquette. “That was our motto for today: Be viciouus. We just have to fight through everything. They set a lot of screens, so we've got to get through them and stay solid.”
Jayden Taylor scored 19 points and Simas Lukosius added 15 for Butler, which hurt itself with 19 turnovers and a disastrous final minute of the first half. Marquette led 32-20 after outscoring Butler 7-0 in the last 34 seconds of the half, including five points in the final four seconds.
Butler trailed 25-20 and had the ball when Ross blocked a Jalen Thomas layup attempt with 44 seconds left, and Kolek hit a jumper 10 seconds later. After Ben Gold stole the ball from Eric Hunter Jr. on Butler’s next possession, Kolek drove toward the basket.
Ali Ali fouled Kolek and then made contact with him again, a shove from behind that resulted in a flagrant foul-1. Kolek hit the two ensuing free throws and then fired an inbounds pass to a wide-open Kam Jones, whose corner 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Marquette a 12-point halftime lead.
“That was one of the craziest endings to a first half," Butler coach Thad Matta said. “Everything that transpired in that time was stuff that had been covered. You can't get that back. But like I said, I thought our guys did a good job of shaking it down, coming back out and playing another 20 minutes at a high level.”
After trailing by 15 midway through the second half, Butler got the margin down to 53-48 on a Lukosius 3-pointer with 4:54 remaining. But that’s as close as the Bulldogs would get.
Butler: After so many blowout losses, the Bulldogs deserve credit for keeping this one close after even without Chuck Harris, who has 11.7 points per game but was unavailable Saturday after sustaining a concussion in a 70-49 loss to Seton Hall last weekend. The Bulldogs can only wonder what might have been if they'd closed out the first half more effectively and had taken better care of the ball.
Marquette: The Golden Eagles took a 16-3 lead in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the game but otherwise didn't play as crisply as they have throughout this winning streak. They now go on the road for three of their next four games.
Marquette has home victories over Villanova and Butler this week, which could enable the Golden Eagles to move up a spot or two.
Butler: Hosts St. John’s on Tuesday.
Marquette: At No. 24 UConn on Tuesday.