NEW YORK-- Dominic James broke a bone in his foot against Connecticut in the fourth to last game of the regular season. Without the senior guard, Marquette finished the season playing like a completely different team.
Losing James couldn't have happened at a worse time. Buzz Williams' club entered a four game stretch against four ranked opponents including the top three seeds in the Big East Tournament. Marquette promptly lost all four, blowing leads in each game.
But after blasting St. John's 74-45 Wednesday in the second round of the Big East Tournament, the Golden Eagles have their mojo back.
What made Marquette so good earlier in the year was its ability to limit turnovers, play smart, and get to loose balls. Without James, Buzz Williams' best players focused on taking over his role and away from the intangibles.
"They [Wes Matthews and Jerel McNeal] wanted to absorb as much of Dominic's loss as they could," Williams said.
"When they try to become what Dominic was to us, then we lose what Wes and Jerel are to us."
Williams is right on all accounts with that statement. In the last four games, Matthews has hit only 35 percent of his shots while McNeal is shooting less than 30 percent and his assist to turnover has plummeted.
"They've got to go one step towards Dominic, but they can't go nine steps towards Dominic," Williams said.
Against St. John's, McNeal and Williams found that middle-ground by going back to fundamentals.
"We've got to make sure, along with Lazar [Hayward], that we do the same thing that got us the 23 wins that we had," said Matthews.
The fundamentals put points on the board with ease, but also keeping the Red Storm off the scoreboard. They knocked down shots and distributed the ball well. Defensively, the McNeal and Matthews were key components into forcing the Johnnies to put up the worst offensive output in the history of the Big East Tournament.
Matthews even chipped in nine rebounds against one of the best rebounding teams in the conference.
Buzz Williams has two seniors that figured how to adjust without James and those two seniors can and will learn how to beat Villanova. The first time around, Marquette did knock off 'Nova, but in the second matchup, the Wildcats dropped 102 on the Golden Eagles.
To prevent that from happening again, Williams and his two seniors agreed they had to limit 'Nova's opportunities in transition. That means the entire Golden Eagles can't let their guard down. Villanova will look to create run-outs on long rebounds. MU needs to jam the outlets and make sure Dante Cunningham doesn't trail in transition.
Buzz Williams noted that Villanova's depth will allow the Wildcats to keep pushing the ball, "They've got eight high-major players and all have a distinct role on the team. They've got the Coach of the Year [Jay Wright], the Most Improved Player of the Year, [Dante Cunningham], and the Sixth Man of the Year [Corey Fisher]."