When you've eliminated your margin for error for an NCAA tournament berth, there's no such thing as an ugly victory going forward. With Tuesday's disheartening loss to St. John's (which became slightly more heartening when the Johnnies clipped Pitt at MSG on Saturday), YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles have entered Survive and Advance mode, and that's exactly what they did on Saturday night at the Bradley Center, gritting, gutting, and clawing their way to a critical 73-64 triumph over Seton Hall.
It was a wacky, wild day in the BIG EAST on Saturday, with the Johnnies' last-second win and DePaul taking Villanova to overtime and Rutgers doing the same to Syracuse and Cincinnati needing an extra five against Providence and Georgetown scrapping its way to a six-point win over South Florida in the Thunderdome. (Run on, sentence! Run on!) For a while, it looked like Marquette might fall victim to the same silliness that infected the rest of the conference. The opening twenty minutes of this contest were uneasy and uneven, to say the least, as Marquette and Seton Hall traded the lead and defensive breakdowns; Seton Hall's biggest lead was five, and Marquette's largest cushion was the four-point margin at the half.
On Silly Saturday, it was only fitting that Marquette would see its perennially-forgotten big men lead the team to victory. In the first half, Chris Otule -- not a typo -- kept Marquette in the game. From the "Things I Wasn't Expecting To Write At Any Point This Season" files, Otule was a Man in the first twenty minutes, attacking the offensive boards ferociously en route to 10 first-half points and seven first-half rebounds. If it wasn't for five missed free throws, Otule would've clinched Player of the Game with a whole half to play.
But there was another half to play, and with Otule saddled with four fouls and Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom struggling from the field, Marquette was desperately in need of a spark. That spark came in the form of an Ox, as Davante Gardner -- who didn't play in the first half -- took over where Otule left off, scoring seven points, grabbing six rebounds (three offensive), hitting five of six free throws, and even dishing out two assists in 11 incredibly efficient minutes. With the Ox leading the charge, Marquette salted the game away from the line, growing the lead to 16 before a couple of late Jeremy Hazell three-pointers made the final margin more respectable.
Notes, awards, and the upcoming sked, after the jump.
- For the first time in a long time, Coach Buzz jostled the starting lineup: Junior Cadougan replaced Dwight Buycks at the point and Joe Fulce took over for Jae Crowder at power forward. The move paid dividends for all involved: Junior was solid in 18 minutes, handing out five assists and running the offense with aplomb and even hitting a couple of shots from the field, including the first teardrop floater I've seen from a Marquette point guard since Cordell Henry. Buycks, for his part, seemed reinvigorated off the bench, hitting 4-6 from the floor with four rebounds, five assists, two steals and no turnovers in 31 minutes.
- The results weren't as striking for Fulce and Crowder: both struggled shooting (Fulce was 0-2, Crowder missed all three of his three-point attempts) but were terrific on the backboards, with Fulce grabbing five boards in 12 minutes and Crowder leading the team with nine rebounds in 32 minutes.
- While we're talking rebounding: Marquette bludgeoned Seton Hall to the tune of a 39-21 rebounding advantage. Crucial to that margin: Otule and Gardner manhandled Herb Pope and Patrik Auda in the low post, with Pope fouling out in just 15 minutes of action and Auda departing with five fouls soon after.
- Jimmy Butler continued his quiet, steady yeoman's work, hitting seven-of-nine from the field and both his throws to finish with 16. He only had three rebounds, but with Crowder, Otule, Fulce and Gardner controlling the paint (28 boards combined between the four), there weren't a lot of rebounds to be had.
- Butler, Buycks, and DJO took turns harassing Jeremy Hazell -- VOLUME SHOOTER ALERT -- who managed 23 points but needed 18 shots (including 12 three-point attempts) to get there. Equally as important: the job Cadougan, DJO and Buycks did on Hall point guard Jordan Theodore, who finished with just two points and three turnovers in 34 minutes.
Jimmy Butler Player of the Game: We've no choice but to split this award between the Twin Terrors, Chris Otule and Davante Gardner. Without the production at the 5, we might be having a much angrier discussion this morning.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: During his post-game interview, Coach Buzz said that Joe Fulce messes up every set on the offensive end of the floor when he's in the game. He might not know where he needs to be or when he needs to go there, but if he's going to grab a board every other minute when he's in the game, he walk up and down the baseline looking for his J, for all I care.
Play of the Game: The Ox has shown some nifty moves on offense in the limited minutes he's seen in BIG EAST action, but he's been something of a black hole when he gets the ball in the post. But when Buycks found Gardner on the left block with 7 minutes to go, Gardner brought the crowd to its feet when he dribbled, spun, dribbled some more and then whipped a pass to the weak side, where a wide-open Jimmy Butler converted a layup that pushed Marquette's lead into double digits.
Up Next: Marquette gets its last shot at a Top 25 team in the regular season when the Golden Eagles pay a visit to UConn on Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. CDT.