Marquette 83, Jackson State 54: Golden Eagles turn it on in the second half

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With a surprisingly strong start to the season, it's easy to forget that the Marquette men's basketball team has nine new players and a coach in his first season at the school.

The Golden Eagles are still very much a work in progress, prone to wild swings from sublime play to incredibly sloppy stretches.

The whole spectrum was evident in MU's 83-54 victory over Jackson State on Tuesday at Fiserv Forum.

Anyone just glancing at the final score would probably be surprised to learn that the Golden Eagles (7-1) went into halftime tied with the Tigers (1-6) at 29-29.

BOX SCORE: Marquette 83, Jackson State 54

MU coach Shaka Smart made his first change to the starting lineup this season, inserting offensive-minded freshman guard Kam Jones in place of Olivier-Maxence Prosper. The Golden Eagles have been plagued by slow starts, and Smart expressed his frustration with the opening lineup after Saturday’s victory over Northern Illinois.

"The group that started those first seven games, for whatever reason, just statistically wasn't playing as well together," Smart said. "So made a slight adjustment. Kam's really played well. I felt like he had played well when he was in with those guys earlier this year."

The new starters didn’t keep MU from suffering another lethargic beginning. It was an unsightly first half with the Golden Eagles shooting 11 for 28 (39.3%), including 2 for 9 on three-pointers, playing lackadaisical defense and allowing nine offensive rebounds.

MU grad transfer Darryl Morsell finally provided the needed spark. He pieced together a personal 7-0 run in the first minute-plus of the second half with two strong drives and a three-pointer from the top of the key.

Morsell finished with eight points, but that burst was an encouraging sign for MU. After scoring 21 or more points in each of the Golden Eagles' first four games, Morsell has scored 32 over the last four.

That flurry also got MU's offense going, with the Golden Eagles shooting 19 for 29 (65.5%) in the second half.

"The challenge for all those guys was just to get outside of themselves in terms of frustration," Smart said. "I thought the first half our whole team had a lot of frustration.

"That is a tough emotion to deal with as a player because, unlike anger, you can't really do anything with it. Anger, you can kind of channel it, toward your opponent or toward playing with a level of violence. But I thought our guys did a good job turning the page, supporting each other and coming out with good defensive energy in the second half."

Second-year forward Oso Ighodaro scored 14 points on 6-for-6 shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds. Prosper responded to coming off the bench with 11 points.

"Darryl's a great leader," Ighodaro said. "We all feed off his energy. So when he went on that run, it kind of inspired everyone just to pick up their play and to play harder."

Marquette forward Oso Ighodaro slams two of his 14 points Tuesday night.
Marquette forward Oso Ighodaro slams two of his 14 points Tuesday night.

It was Ighodaro's first collegiate double-double. The 6-foot-9 big man has shown rapid improvement since last season.

"I'm just getting comfortable with the system," Ighodaro said. "Just finding ways to impact the game. I may not have a stat line like this every game, but I try to impact the game every time I get in."

The rest of MU's scoring was spread out, including 46 points from bench players.

"It's not one of those teams where you got five good players and then everyone else is just kind of an also-ran," Smart said. "We don't have that team. We got 11 scholarship players that are available to play that can help our team in different ways. And they all have strengths and weaknesses. They all have areas to grow."

Of the 11 scholarship players, only veteran guard Greg Elliott didn't score at least five points. Elliott played just 3 minutes 31 seconds in the first half.

"I just thought the other guys were playing with a little bit more fight," Smart said. "I don't think he defended with the intensity that he needed to have in the first half.

"Greg's a good player. Greg's a guy we need to play a significant role on our team. But as a guy that's in his fifth year of college, he's got to come in and lead from a standpoint of energy and effort. So he'll get another opportunity to do that."

The schedule gets significantly harder for MU. The Golden Eagles face Wisconsin and Kansas State on the road before finishing the non-conference slate against UCLA on Dec. 11. Big East play begins at Xavier on Dec. 18.

"This time of year every team is searching for, OK, how do we put together a complete 40-minute effort," Smart said. "And obviously we're no different. We got a long way to go in terms of just understanding the maturity level it takes to be at our best for 40 minutes.

"But obviously with the schedule we have coming up, we're going to have to figure that out pretty quick."

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Marquette Golden Eagles beat Jackson State Tigers 83-54 at Fiserv Forum

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