Buzz Williams has a theory on why Marquette plays so many close games.
“We’re not very good,” the coach said with a shrug.
Maybe, but the Golden Eagles aren’t bad either. Especially when things get tight.
Vander Blue scored 22 points and Marquette overcame a dramatic game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation by Pitt’s Lamar Patterson to win, 74-67, in overtime on Saturday and remain unbeaten in the Big East Conference.
“I think it just sums up what we’ve been doing all year,” Blue said. “I’m sure a lot of people didn’t have us winning ... we just wanted to make sure wherever we go, we do what we do.”
What Marquette (12-3, 3-0) is doing at the moment is finding a way to deliver with the game on the line. The Golden Eagles went on a quick 8-2 burst to take control of the extra period and Pitt never got within six the rest of the way.
“We wanted to make sure we started off overtime delivering the first blow,” Blue said. “It was a whole new game. It was 0-0. Once we hit the first bucket and the first stop, we feel like we’re OK.”
Davante Gardner made all six of his shots from the floor while adding 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds for Marquette, which is unbeaten through three conference games for the first time in four years.
Lamar Patterson led Pitt (13-4, 1-3) with a career-high 22 points, including his 3-pointer from the top of the key as the clock expired. Williams said he didn’t consider ordering his players to foul when the ball was inbounded, then added his players looked like “clowns” when the shot dropped through the net.
The Petersen Events Center erupted as Patterson celebrated at halfcourt, emphatically punching the ground.
It didn’t stop the Golden Eagles, however, from delivering the knockout as the Panthers fell to 0-4 in games decided by nine points or less.
“We need to grow up quickly and figure out a way to get it done,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said.
The Panthers may have to do it – at least in the short-term – without senior guard Tray Woodall. The team captain left the game early in the first half with a head injury after colliding with Marquette’s Derrick Wilson during a scramble for a loose ball.
Woodall laid on the floor for several minutes before slowly making his way to the bench. He placed ice on his face sporadically the rest of the afternoon and Dixon isn’t sure when his team’s most experienced ballhandler will be able to return.
The Golden Eagles had issues of their own. Point guard Junior Cadougan went down with a leg injury later in the half, though Wilson stepped in and played capably in Cadougan’s absence.
“I felt I was ready for it,” Wilson said. “I’ve learned a lot from Junior and seen him handle situations like (this) and my teammates put me in position.”
And suddenly Marquette finds itself in an unusual position: atop the Big East. The Golden Eagles have been one of the conference’s biggest surprises after finding a way to win the tight games they couldn’t earlier in the season. Two of Marquette’s three league victories have come in overtime, with the other a one-point escape against No. 19 Georgetown last week.
For most of the first 40 minutes, it didn’t look like the Golden Eagles would need to put in any extra work. Marquette spent most of the afternoon nursing a narrow but seemingly comfortable lead that floated between 2-6 points. Every time Pitt looked ready to get in position to tie the game, the Golden Eagles would get a stop.
Pitt’s struggles at the free throw line helped. Pitt shot just 50 percent (13 of 26) at the line, including a miserable 2 of 7 in overtime. It wasn’t quite the performance the Panthers were looking for after crushing Georgetown on Tuesday night.
Pitt hoped the 28-point romp would serve as a launching pad into a manageable – by Big East standards – stretch that includes games against conference also-rans like DePaul and Providence.
Instead, the Panthers are searching for answers on how deliver when everything is on the line.
“We have enough guys, we have the right guys,” Dixon said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
That’s no longer an issue for Marquette, which is getting contributions from all over. Jamil Wilson added 11 points and five rebounds for the Golden Eagles while Todd Mayo chipped in 10 off the bench. Marquette outrebounded Pitt 38-33, outscored the Panthers 28-18 in the paint and had a 14-8 edge in second chance points.
“I wish it was the last game of the season,” Williams said. “We’re thankful we get to have a happy flight on the way home but we’re also cognizant we have eight more road games and for us to be in the middle of January and for us to win one road game ... we’ve got a long way to go.”