ALTON — The Marquette Catholic Explorers survived a scare from the visiting Madison Trojans on Tuesday, pulling away late to win 40-28.
Marquette improved to 16-7 with the victory. Madison dipped to 4-13 with the loss.
The Explorers are now 6-4 in their last 10 games and trying to find some consistency. Senior guard Trey Aguirre explained that head coach Steve Medford had a heart to heart with them on Monday and went a little philosophical for the team to find its center.
“We just have to practice hard and get better every day,” Aguirre said. “Today we were watching film and coach said, 'If you were hanging off a cliff and the only thing between you and a 20,000 foot drop was a rope, who would you have on the other side? Once you look around this room and can say every single teammate can hold that rope, then you'll be a great team.'”
It took some other guys to control the rope on Monday, as Marquette leading scorer Shandon Boone was kept in check by the Madison defense. The Trojans utilized a diamond-and-1 to contain Boone, who had six points, but only one 3-point field goal and three free throws.
“Defensively we did what we were supposed to do,” Madison head coach Jaime Cotto-Rodriguez said. “You hold Boone to one field goal and you expect a W.”
It's become commonplace for opponents to try and slow Boone. Medford thought Madison did a good job, but he expects other Explorers to step up when he's bottled up and they had some trouble doing that Tuesday.
“They came in and they competed and they've competed with a lot of teams if you look at their schedule,” Medford said. “Was it probably closer than it should have been, yes, but he (Cotto-Rodriguez) did a good job. They had a diamond-and-1 on Shandon and basically face guarded him the whole time and we struggled to make some shots. They had something to do with that too. We missed some open shots, but the guys he wanted shooting the ball were shooting the ball. If we could have gotten a little separation we could have got them out of the diamond-and-1. We came out on the first two plays and had two really good looks, two set plays against the box-and-1 and we missed them. If we make those two maybe we get them out of it immediately.
“A lot of people may wonder why I took Shandon out later, well it was to see if he'd get out of that defense. He did, we got a couple easy layups and some separation and I put him back in.”
It was a stalemate early. Madison freshman Antwan Glasper hit a trey to put the Trojans up 3-0 at the 6:35 mark of the first quarter.
Marquette had to work for its points. Ben Sebacher scored to cut it 3-2 at the 4:07 mark and Boone nailed his lone trey with 1:52 left to give the Explorers a 5-3 advantage. A free throw from Sebacher made it 6-3 and a free throw from Glasper late cut the score to 6-4 at the close of the quarter.
It was much the same in the second quarter. Madison drew even at 11-11 with 1:21 to go in the half when Joe Wooten hit a shot. Two free throws from Nick Hemann with 22.5 seconds left gave the Explorers a 13-11 edge at the break.
The Trojans started three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior on Tuesday. Glasper said they have been taking their lumps, but have stayed in most of their games and he understands its much needed experience in a program with a rich tradition. They watched film on Marquette and he thought they executed well on Tuesday.
“I watched film on them this morning against Metro East Lutheran,” Glasper said. “As a freshman they pressured the ball more than I thought they were going to do, they moved it and played like they were seniors, but with us being freshman I thought we battled back toward the end.”
With the game tied 16-16 at the 6:02 mark of the third quarter, the Explorers finally gained some breathing room.
Sebacher hit a free throw at 5:08 to start an 8-0 scoring spree. A bucket by Sebacher and a trey and a pair of free throws by Reagan Snider stretched it to 24-16 Marquette.
The Explorers expanded the run to 17-3 by the 3:45 mark of the fourth quarter when Aguirre knocked down a trey to give them a 33-19 cushion, but the Trojans wouldn't fold. They answered with an 8-0 spurt to cut it to a two possession game at 33-27 with 1:59 remaining when Kendall Kennedy hit an inside shot.
Cotto-Rodriguez was pleased to not see his young squad throw in the towel.
“That's one thing about the kids I've got, they're never going to fold,” he said. “They're always going to fight until the end. We're young, but we're tired of using that as an excuse. We're trying to get ready for the postseason.”
The Explorers were able to go 7 of 8 from the charity stripe down the stretch and nab the victory.
“It was a credit to Jaime and his team, those kids kept battling,” Medford said of Madison's surge. “He's got a good group of freshmen that compete. Jaime does a good job getting his team to compete, because that's a tough environment to compete in and for him to get those kids to respond to him, I think he does a really good job.”
Snider, who fouled out with 2:57 to go, led Marquette with 11 points, while Sebacher punched in 10 to complement him. Madison was led by 12 each from Glasper and Kennedy in the loss.
The Explorers are now idle until 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 when they travel to Highland.
MARQUETTE 40, MADISON 28
Trojans 4 7 6 11 — 28
Explorers 6 7 11 16 — 40
Marquette (16-7) — Trey Aguirre 8, Shandon Boone 6, Reagan Snider 11, Ben Sebacher 10, Chris Hartrich 3, Nick Hemann 2. 2FG — 5 3FG — 5 FT — 15 PF — 14.
Madison (4-13) — Shamond Moore 2, Kendall Kennedy 12, Antwan Glasper 12, Joe Wooten 2. 2FG — 7 3FG — 3 FT — 5 PF — 17.