JC for the W: Crowder's Dagger Delivers 79-77 Victory for Marquette

He's about to say "FUN!" You're going to have to trust me on this one.

How's your ticker today, Marquette fans?

In a wildly entertaining up-and-down affair that saw about twenty lead changes in the second half of the game alone, YOUR never-say-die Golden Eagles ran their record to a perfect 8-0 with a 79-77 triumph over a plucky and uber-talented Washington Huskies team that's going to give people fits all season long.

After Saturday's Battle of Molasses against Wisconsin, Marquette was clearly eager to stretch its legs and run with the bigger, longer Huskies last night. But like a puppy that's a little too eager to get off the leash, MU was a tornado of recklessness in the first half, turning the ball over far too often and showing little of the patience -- especially on the offensive end -- that marked Saturday's win. Still and all: after falling behind 13-4 after UW drilled three consecutive triples in the first three minutes of the game, Marquette began to chip away, with a ton of damage done at the line, where MU enjoyed an advantage of 17 attempts (19-27 for the game at the stripe for MU, 5-10 for the Huskies).

After taking a three-point lead into intermission, Marquette began to feel the loss of center Chris Otule (more on that, after the jump) acutely in the second half, as Washington abused MU's man-to-man defense with back-cut after back-cut and bludgeoned Marquette on the glass (46 total rebounds for UW, including 18 on offense). But, just like Saturday, for every haymaker thrown by the Huskies, Marquette had an answer: Jae Crowder shook off a deep freeze in the first half to put up 16 second half points; Todd Mayo hit a critical three to end a UW run; and Vander Blue had what might be the highlight of the year with a vvicious posterization of UW point guard Abdul Gaddy that snapped a 60-60 tie.

But this one wasn't decided until the final minute: with the game knotted at 75 following a miss by Blue, Darius Johnson-Odom jumped on an errant pass and was fouled, and he split the bonus throws to give MU a one-point advantage. After a timeout, Washington worked the ball to Terrence Ross, who appeared to put a cherry on top of his excellent night (19 points, 9 boards, 4 assists) with a bank shot in the lane to give UW a 77-76 lead. Marquette, with Blue running the controls, worked the ball up court quickly, and Blue found a wide-open Crowder camped out in the corner. Crowder hadn't been able to connect from deep all night, but this three was true, and Washington was left to rush the ball up the court for an off-balance three that never had a chance of finding the bottom of the net.

There's been some talk about how quickly the last 30 seconds of the game played out, since neither coach opted to take a timeout before his team's final possession. Lorenzo Romar is already on the record acknowledging that he should've taken a TO with six seconds left on the clock and MU up two, but Buzz Williams is standing by his decision not to call the troops together before Crowder's three, noting that Marquette practices end-of-game scramble situations every day and that he didn't want to give Washington a chance to set up its defense.

I think Coach Buzz's decision was correct, not only for the reasons he mentioned but also because, quite frankly, Coach Buzz isn't very good at drawing up set plays; if I remember right, the last few times MU was in a situation like the one last night, the play ended up with Jimmy Butler getting the ball on the wing and taking his man off the dribble. That's not an indictment of Coach Buzz, of course: there are only so many George Karls who can draw up a fairly-involved set play in 15 seconds. Point is: it's hard to do, we're not particularly good at it, and whatever benefit it provides to Marquette is probably outweighed by the benefit to the opponent's defense. So, yeah: I support the no TO.

Let's get the nasty stuff out of the way first and end on happier notes:
  • Chris Otule's injury -- suffered early in the first half when Big Chris was scrambling for a loose ball near half court, and his knee appeared to buckle beneath him -- is currently being listed as a knee sprain, but I've got a terrifying feeling that it's a knee sprain in the same way that somebody like Andrew Quarless (the Packer tight end whose entire lower leg turned at a grotesque angle during last Sunday's game vs. the Giants) was initially listed as having a knee sprain. We've all seen ligament injuries. Otule's had the look of a serious knee injury. I've got my fingers and toes crossed that it's not serious, but, at this point, I'm not hopeful.
  • Anyway: with Otule out of the lineup, we got a resounding answer to the question of: "Is Otule really that valuable to the team's success?" In a word: yes. In a few more words: the defense went to pot without Big Chris patrolling the center of the paint. He doesn't often get credit for it, but Otule is an excellent help defender, and you have to think that he would've altered -- if not blocked -- a couple of the uncontested layups that Washington earned on back cuts in the second half.
  • Besides that: though his rebounding numbers don't always show it, Big Chris is very good on the defensive glass: if he's not grabbing the board, he's at least putting a body on someone and earthmoving him out of the lane. Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner just aren't that kind of player, at least not at this stage; there were quite a few times where Jamil failed to put a body on anybody last night, let alone his own man. That's gotta get fixed, and fixed in a hurry.
  • Reading through the box score, it's difficult to say that anybody played terrific: DJO finished with 23, but his shot was long all night and he went bull-in-a-china-shop into the lane on a couple of occasions; Van had 11 points and had his SportsCenter moment, but he managed only three boards and a couple of assists while turning the ball over three times; Jamil Wilson was productive with six points and six rebounds, but he got brutalized by the big Washington frontline time and again; and Todd Mayo had 11 points of his own on 3-7 shooting, but he botched a one-on-none break when he couldn't decide if he wanted to dunk or lay the ball up, and he made a bad decision to try a three on a 3-on-2 break when a two could've put the boot on Washington's throat.
  • And yet: I'm complaining about a game where we managed 79 points and 1.09 points per possession and had to play 38 minutes without our best defensive player, two days removed from a big rivalry game (sorry, Bucky fans) and against a very good opponent and where none of our guys played particularly well, AND WE WON. Heady times, folks, and I hope you'll join me in stopping to smell the roses here.

The awards:

Jimmy Butler Player of the Game: By every right, this award should go to Jae Crowder, for getting off the mat after a two-point first half to finish with 18, for another solid night on the defensive end of the court, and, of course, for his cold-blooded dagger from the corner with five seconds to go. But, like I said immediately above, on a night when no one could seem to get totally untracked, these gutty Golden Eagles found a way to get it done. So congratulations, DJO, Vander, Junior, Jae, Chris, Davante, Jamil, Todd, Juan, Jamail, and Derrick: y'all earned this one.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: I didn't realize until I looked at the box score that DJO managed 23 points on the night; I knew he couldn't find the range from distance (2-of-7), but he found creative ways to score, from jumpers in the key to an efficient night at the line (9-11). That's enough for the Fulce tonight.

Davante "Big Smooth" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: There's a bevy of contenders to pick from here, and I'm having trouble narrowing it down to a winner: m'self, I'm partial to Jamil Wilson's eyepopping alley-oop from DJO, but I can understand if you're inclined to give the award to Vander for his incredible dunk over Abdul Gaddy, or if you think that there's no choice but Jae's game-winner. So you tell me: who gets the nod for the Smoothie?

Up Next: For the first time in what feels like a long time, YOUR Golden Eagles are back at the Bradley Center, with an 8:00 p.m. CST tip against the Fightin' Wardles of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Until then.

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