WE ARRRRR THE CHAMPIONS: No. 16/17 Marquette 59, Norfolk State 57

And thus ends the glass half-full portion of our recap.

A week after drubbing lowly Norfolk State by 31 in the first round (Tundra Regional) of the Paradise Jam, Marquette seemed to have its plate set for an easy waltz to the bronze ashtray that apparently moonlights as the trophy for the Paradise Jam Championship Game. YOUR Golden Eagles had their (collective) foot on the throat of the Spartans just 10 minutes into the game, as Darius Johnson-Odom calmly drained a wide-open three to give Marquette a 22-8 advantage. And with NSU wunder-big Kyle O'Quinn riding the pine with two fouls in the first three minutes of the game, MU seemed positioned to run away and hide.

But no doubt keenly aware of Coach Buzz William's comments after the first MU-NSU matchup -- y'know, the one where he talked about running three set plays in an 80-possession game -- Norfolk State made a concerted effort to slow Marquette's heretofore brilliant transition offense. The Spartans ran a token full-court zone press for much of the game and then sagged into a matchup 2-3 zone that -- perhaps predictably -- gave Marquette fits. Content to swing the ball around the perimeter and settle for long-range jumpers, MU limped to a 5-20 performance from beyond the arc and was held to 0.96 points per possession, a far cry from the 1.25 points per possession Marquette averaged coming in to tonight's contest.

And yet: when Jae Crowder sank two triples to stretch the margin to 14 with 12 minutes to go, it looked like Marquette might sneak off with a double-digit win after all. That wasn't in the cards, though, as the Spartans ripped off a 19-5 run over the next seven minutes to knot the contest at 52. A steal by Vander Blue that ended in a dunk by Crowder gave MU a two-point lead with a minute remaining, and DJO had a chance to salt away the game after NSU missed a three-point attempt on the other end. But his throw was short, and Marquette had to suffer through a white-knuckle moment when O'Quinn got loose for a wide-open attempt from beyond the arc with three seconds left. But that shot went begging, and Marquette made way for the lifeboats with a 59-57 victory.

A couple notes and the awards, after the jump.

  • DJO's missed free throw would've loomed large if O'Quinn's last-second attempt found the bottom of the net, and that would've been unfortunate, because Darius was the only thing that Marquette had going on offense tonight. As it is, since O'Quinn's shot was a touch too long, we can fondly recall DJO's fourth twenty-point effort of the season: after opening the season with 16 against Mount St. Mary's, DJO's gone 24, 20, 20, 20. Model of consistency, that young fella.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, sadly, was Vander Blue, who followed up two stellar outings in St. Thomas with one of his more forgettable performances: Van missed all seven of hits field goal attempts and, as was so often the case last year, was prone to ill-advised drives to the rim that resulted in blocked shots or turnovers. Still, Blue handed out five assists on the night, none more important that his feed to Crowder to give MU the lead with a minute to go.
  • The Absolut Weapon didn't come close to matching his scoring output from last night's game against Ole Miss -- Jae managed 14 points tonight on 6-14 from the floor, including 2-7 from distance -- but did Man's Work on the glass, corralling 11 rebounds and blocking a shot while playing the last six minutes of the game with four personal fouls.
  • Chris Otule also had an effective night on the defensive end as well, snaring nine boards and blocking four shots -- including an impressive deflection that led to a run-out at the end of the first half -- while also pilfering ... a game-high three steals? Yeah? Really? Neat.
  • It wasn't all sunshine and roses, of course: Norfolk came into the game averaging almost 20 turnovers per contest, but Marquette only forced NSU into 12 turnovers tonight. Meanwhile, Marquette was the squad that got sloppy with the ball in the second half, turning the ball over in the back court at least four times (by my count) to let the Spartans hang around much longer than they should have.
  • As I said in the Game Thread: if you're so inclined, I'll permit you to feel the slightest bit disappointed in Jamil Wilson, whose line read 10 minutes, 1 point, 2 boards, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 2 blocks, 3 fouls tonight. I'm still on the J-Wil Bandwagon, and I hope you are, too, but something doesn't look right there.

The awards, if you're still with me:

Jimmy Butler Player of the Game: When things aren't clicking on offense, it's nice to have two options who can create their own shot whenever they want it. So tonight, we split the JBPOTG award between Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, who accounted for 34 of Marquette's 59 points.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Junior Cadougan had himself a decent outing, notching eight points to go along with six assists, but his surprisingly timid play in the second half means that tonight's Fulce recipient is Davante Gardner, who put in a Fulce-like effort with seven points and seven boards in 15 effective minutes off the bench.

Davante "Big Smooth" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: With the game tied and the clock winding down, Vander Blue worked around two screens to harass Jamel Fuentes into the game-deciding turnover. Van tracked down the loose ball and fed a streaking Crowder, whose one-handed stuff accounted for the final points of the game.

Up Next: A (hopefully) uneventful flight home and six days off await YOUR Golden Eagles, who take the rest of the week off until Jacksonville comes callin' at the Bradley Center next Monday night.

Until then.

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