So by now we all know what happened Saturday afternoon. YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles, of course, helped the Pitt Panthers' stunning death spiral continue with a 62-57 win at the Bradley Center. The win improves Marquette to 3-2 in the Big East and puts them squarely in the mosh pit that is the middle of the conference standings.
I won't take your time with a blow by blow recap. Suffice it to say, there was a lot to like (coming from behind, ramped up 2nd half defense, solid games out of both Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, etc.) and there was plenty to dislike (Another slow start, 9 first half turnovers, allowing Ashton Gibbs to shoot the lights out, etc.). In the end it was an ugly MU win, which I will take over a beautifully played loss EVERY TIME.
So if you're interested in one quick glance back at the win, before looking ahead to Louisville, then jump with me.
Losers of 6 straight games, and now 0-5 in the Big East, Pitt is an unmitigated disaster right now. But I won't place any of the blame for that on Ashton Gibbs. Against Marquette, Gibbs had the look of a man who had basically said "F*ck the rest of you guys, give me the ball and let me win this thing myself." He poured in a career high 29 points and looked for a minute like he might actually carry the Panthers on his back all the way to the finish line. Luckily for us, he came up a play or two short.
Apparently, in his postgame comments, Buzz Williams said that Todd Mayo's defense on Gibbs was what won the game for us. That seems like an odd thing to say after a guy blows up for 29 points, and that particular player you're praising twice fouls the man shooting a three. Some folks have made a big deal of this comment. I didn't hear it, and I'm generally not one to get too worked up over what a coach says to the media. The quote I read said nothing of Todd's defense on Gibbs specifically, but rather his "defensive pressure". If you're truly interested in who was actually guarding (or not guarding Gibbs) as he was carving up the Golden Eagles, check out this breakdown that someone put on the scout board.
If Buzz really was just praising Mayo for his defensive pressure, then I would say it was well warranted. It was Marquette's pressure defense, and Pitt's inability (or unwillingness) to adapt to it that turned the game. Leading 41-40, Pitt turned the ball over on consecutive possessions against Marquette's 1-2-2 press. Each led to Todd Mayo layups, the second one also yielded an "And 1" free throw. Marquette went up 45-41 after that and never relinquished the lead.
Jae Crowder was quiet in the first half - making the first basket of the game, then going scoreless the rest of the half. But before you could say "Jae needs to step up," he came out and scored 7 before the first TV timeout of the second half, and finished with 15 points.
If you were expecting back to back high production outings from Davante Gardner, you were a little disappointed. After his career night on Wednesday, the Big Nickname scored just 7 points on 2-6 shooting.
I don't know if we had previously seen a frontcourt of Crowder, Gardner and Jamil Wilson in a game before, but we saw a lot of it in this one. That triumvirate, along with DJO and Mayo saw the lion's share of the minutes in the second half. The box score says MU only played 7 guys in the game, but I could've sworn Juan Anderson got in for a few seconds. Either way, it was those did most of the heavy lifting in getting this one in the W column.
We can't have a game without awards:
Jimmy Butler Player of the Game: Darius Johnson-Odom led all Golden Eagles with 18 points, on 7-16 shooting. He was instrumental in the pressure defense that tipped the game in Marquette's favor. But it was his back to back 3-pointers that extended the lead to 60-51, with 2 minutes remaining, and put the game out of reach that earn DJO the POTG nod this weekend.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Certainly Todd Mayo's 9 points and 7 boards(!) off the bench are good enough to earn him consideration for this honor. But all the other talk surrounding what he may or may not have actually done, means he's getting to much attention to be "undersung". So, I'm giving the award to Jamil Wilson. Wilson did a little bit of everything. He scored 5 of his 7 points, and notched both of his blocked shots, in the first half, while helping to keep Marquette afloat. He also grabbed 4 rebounds, all on the offensive end.
Davante "Big Smooth" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: Junior Cadougan's steal, and pass ahead to Mayo for the layup and 1, brought down the house on Saturday. The BC was louder than it has been all season after that play, and you knew that Marquette had taken control of the game. They don't get much smoother than that.
Up next: Marquette celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day by welcoming in the Louisville Cardinals for a 2:30pm tilt at the Bradley Center. Play hooky and we'll see you down there!