Saturday, February 20, 2016

Marquette's Cheatham emerging as a key player with March looming

                                   Photo Credit: Geno Green

For much of the season, Marquette freshman Henry Ellenson's play on the court garnered a ton of notoriety across the country, but on Saturday afternoon, Haanif Cheatham took center stage and thrived.

Cheatham scored a team-high 20 on 4-of-6 from long range and benefited early from Ellenson and Luke Fischer's double teams in Marquette's 73-60 win over DePaul at the Allstate Arena with an attendance of 8,524— the majority being Marquette fans decked out in blue and gold.

After a week off from competition, Cheatham and the Golden Eagles used the extra rest to their advantage.

"We had a whole week off and got some shots in before and after practice," Cheatham said. "Coach [Brett] Nelson really helped me in my shot and I always follow what he says and has been a big help for me this season."

For the third time in the last four games, Cheatham finished with at least 20 points and Wojciechowski sees potential and growth from the freshman.

"I don't know how many freshman have done that and it is hard to do," Wojciechowski said.

After going a combined 1-of-7 from the field to start the game, Luke Fischer and Ellenson found their grooves and finished with a combined 30 points.

"In the beginning, we got the ball by the basket, but we couldn't finish," Wojciechowski said. "I thought Luke and [Henry] were good today with the ball in the paint."

Marquette's ability to execute on extra passes paid big dividends with 16 assists compared to DePaul's seven and played a big part in a 9-for-9 performance from the foul line

DePaul's Billy Garrett (leg) and Peter Ryckbosch (knee) did not suit up and it showed on the floor with seven assists and 16 turnovers.

"Coming out of the St. John's game, we expected Billy to play and he is one of the better players in the conference," Wojciechowski said. "That's a big loss for them, especially given that Leitao has done a great job with that team."

Brief Summary:

Both teams started out shaky with three turnovers each in the first 4:13 of the game.

DePaul focused its defensive coverage with double and triple teams on Elllenson and Fischer on the low block as everything went according to plan in the first five minutes of the game, despite trailing 9-3.

Haanif Cheatham benefited from the DePaul's defensive pressure with seven of the first 15 points for Marquette in that stretch.

DePaul's final lead of the game came at the 11:09 mark in the first half on Aaron Simpson's layup to go ahead 13-11 and Marquette would respond with a 19-7 run of its own.

"Our defense got one stop on most of DePaul's possessions and it allowed us to push out in transition," Cheatham said.

The Golden Eagles' run put them in the driver's seat with a 37-26 advantage over the Blue Demons after 20 minutes.

In the first 1:22 of the second half, Marquette blistered to a 7-0 run and built a 17-point advantage.

Marquette's lead shrunk to as low as 10 points with 55 seconds left in regulation and Wojciechowski believes late-game decisions can be improved after turning the ball over 14 times.

"We didn't handle the last part of the game as well as I liked, but we had to play well to get into that position," Wojciechowski said.

At 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the BIG EAST Conference, Marquette's unselfish play could be the biggest factor in whether or not it will make the NCAA Tournament.

Only time will tell.

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