Marquette’s stunning win at Providence on Tuesday night was another sign that, if nothing else, Steve Wojciechowski’s second Golden Eagles team is a resilient bunch.
Three games into the season, Iowa ran Marquette off its home court in an 89-61 win that left the Golden Eagles 1-2. They bounced back to run off wins in their last nine nonconference games, the first two coming in the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York.
Marquette opened Big East play with a pair of losses to Seton Hall and Georgetown. That left the Golden Eagles facing a trip to eighth-ranked Providence, which had won 14 of its first 15 games.
They hung with the Friars and emerged with a 65-64 win, securing the victory when Henry Ellenson blocked Kris Dunn’s last-second shot.
“We feel really fortunate to win,” Wojciechowski said after his team improved to 11-4. “I thought our guys showed incredible toughness, poise and fight.”
Those qualities weren’t always on display during Wojciechowski’s first season, when Marquette tied Creighton for last place in the Big East and finished 13-19 overall.
Expectations for improvement were high this season, mainly because of the presence of prized freshman Ellenson. A top-five recruit, the 6-foot-11 Ellenson is considered a potential lottery pick in June’s NBA draft.
A Wisconsin native, Ellenson turned down scholarship offers from Kentucky and Michigan State to stay closer to home and play with his older brother, Wally, at Marquette.
Midway through his freshman season, Ellenson ranks third in the Big East in scoring (16.0 points per game), second in rebounding (9.9), tied for seventh in blocked shots (1.5) and 13th in free-throw percentage (75.3).
A point guard until he hit a growth spurt in high school, Ellenson is averaging 2.3 assists and almost a steal per game.
“He’s as good a freshman that has come into our league in a long, long time,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s scoring 16 points a game and getting 10 rebounds, but he’s as good a passer as I’ve seen for a big guy.
“He makes everyone better on the court. He’s got the ability to push the ball. He posts up little guys. He’s got a ton of different ways that he can hurt you.”
Wojciechowski notes the growth Ellenson has made since he joined the program last June. In addition to his considerable talents, Ellenson possesses a high work ethic and a strong passion for the game.
“He continues to get better,” Wojciechowski said. “He can play all over the floor. He can play inside, he can play outside. He’s a very good passer and rebounder.
“Obviously, he’s a key part to what we do.”
How the second half of the season plays out for Marquette will depend heavily on how Ellenson continues to progress, but he has plenty of talent surrounding him. Center Luke Fischer and guard Duane Wilson are returning starters, and freshman Haanif Cheatham is one of three top-100 recruits on the roster.
The 1-2 start to the season forced the Golden Eagles to do some soul-searching.
“I think the Iowa loss made us all take a long look in the mirror,” Wojciechowski said before conference play began. “I think our guys made their minds up that this is not the direction they wanted the season to go.
“Their commitment and their investment has grown every day since. It’s nice to see guys rewarded when they make that kind of commitment and investment.”
After starting 0-2 in conference play, Wojciechowski called the players together for a meeting. Wilson said at first, “the meeting was just Coach getting on us.”
“But it really turned into the players talking more than the coaches. A lot of players stepped up and said how they felt and the things we needed to do.”
The Golden Eagles then went out and pulled off a win that put things back on track.
“I feel like that’s what we did,” Wilson said after the Providence game. “We played together as a team and we were tough.”
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