If Buzz Williams did indeed have hair atop his head, he may very well have pulled a majority of it out on Saturday afternoon.
Three days removed from scoring a season-low 47 points in a road loss to an undermanned UW-Green Bay squad, Marquette nearly squandered a 21-point lead (including a 12-point margin late in the second half) to LSU before pulling out an 84-80 triumph against the Tigers at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The victory for the Golden Eagles (8-3), who shot 49.1 percent from the field, marked the 15th consecutive win within the friendly confines of the BMO Harris Bradley Center and helped ease the swelling of the sting that was the aforementioned defeat to the Phoenix earlier in the week.
Leading the charge for the blue and gold, who improved to 2-1 all time against the Bayou Bengals, was junior forward Davante Gardner, who net a season-high 19 points off the bench, while the starting backcourt of Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan chipped in with 17 points apiece.
Playing with an overt sense of urgency, Marquette connected on seven of its first 10 field goal attempts to race out to a 17-3 lead less than four minutes into the opening frame. With the Tigers plagued by a stagnant offensive attack (they shot 33.3 percent in the first half), the Golden Eagles, behind eight points by Blue, saw their lead swell to 43-22 at with 5:10 to play prior to intermission.
LSU (7-2), who has now dropped two of their past three contests after beginning the season with seven straight wins, responded with an 8-0 run, but, ultimately, trailed 46-33 at the break.
The good vibrations for the Golden Eagles, though, would be rather short lived as the second half commenced.
Beginning with a layup by Johnny O’Bryant III on their opening possession, the Tigers, who would shoot 53.1 percent from the field over the game’s final 20 minutes, clawed their way back courtesy of a 16-4 run to make it a one-point game, 50-49, with 14:57 to play.
MU, who shot an eyebrow-raising 24-of-25 from the foul line on the afternoon, scored eight unanswered, only to see Johnny Jones’ club respond with eight straight points of their own.
With the score knotted at 58 apiece following a Charles Carmouche free throw with 9:38 remaining, the Golden Eagles, behind seven points from Cadougan, established a 74-62 advantage; however, the visitors from the SEC would not go quietly.
Buoyed by five free throws from Carmouche, who finished with 15 points, LSU pulled to within 79-76 with 37 seconds on the clock. From there, the 6’8”, 290-pound Gardner put the game on ice with a clutch showing from the free-throw line.
Gardner, who connected on each of his nine tosses from the charity stripe, scored the final eight points for MU, including a 6-of-6 showing from the foul line over the game’s final 35 seconds.
“You just have to be mentally tough,” cited Cadougan, who scored 15 points in the second half and finished with a team-high six assists, according to jsonline.com. “The guys on our team are so mature for their age. We’re going to be fine. We’re not even into the heat of it. The Big East is when it counts.”
Additionally, Saturday marked the return of sophomore guard Todd Mayo, who, in his first game of the season following being academically ineligible for the first semester, scored two points in 12 minutes off the bench.
“It felt pretty good,” noted Mayo of his first taste of court time this season, as reported by jsonline.com. “I’m on track but I’m not in a rhythm yet.”
As for LSU, who were led by Andre Stringer’s game-high 20 points, the Tigers trumped the Golden Eagles in fast break points, 28-19; second chance points, 10-7; points off turnovers, 20-16. Meanwhile, MU, who returns to the hardwood on Saturday, Dec. 29 when the host North Carolina Central, held the upper hand in rebounds, 33-32; bench scoring, 39-29; and were even with the Tigers in points in the paint, 32-32.