Escape From Piscataway: #15 Marquette 60, Rutgers 54

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Things weren't all sunshine and lollipops at the RAC last night, but Marquette still walked out with a win in their last ever Big East game against Rutgers.

In the wake of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles' trouncing of the loathsome Fighting Irish of Notre Dame on Saturday, some MU fans (read: me) were ready to christen the 2012-'13 conference season a smashing success regardless of the outcome of the last two games. At worst, we (read: me) reasoned, Marquette would finish 12-6 and in fourth place, which is a hell of an accomplishment considered where things stood two months ago.

Here's the dirty little secret, though: I really, really wanted Marquette to beat Rutgers last night.

I'm not exactly sure why, but I don't care for Rutgers, which is weird considering Marquette is like 9-1 against the Scarlet Knights since joining the Big East. It's not like there's a history of close games or cheap shots or players' families trying to storm the floor between the schools. They don't have any particularly distasetful players, and while Mike Rice is a nutjob, he's a non-threatening kind of nutjob (and one who's going to be unemployed in a few months). Maybe I've just run across the wrong Rutgers fans; for whatever reason, these cats seem to have an awfully high opinion of RU despite the fact that they've been a perennial bottom feeder in both football and basketball since joining the Big East. Maybe it's the bizarre animosity they have for the basketball-only schools in the Big East. Maybe it's that they can't seem to understand that the only reason Rutgers was invited to the Big Ten is the number of television sets in the New York/New Jersey area (despite the fact that very few of those television sets are tuned into Scarlet Knights games). Maybe it's that New Jersey is the worst.

Whatever the reason, I was pulling hard for a win last night, but YOUR Golden Eagles seemed none too interested in obliging me in the first half. Turning in the worst opening 20 minutes since the zeppelin-crashing-into-the-Titanic-crashing-into-a-nuclear-reactor first half at Cincinnati six weeks ago, Marquette took sleepwalking to another level before half time. There were turnovers galore (8), there were missed shots aplenty (10-28 from the field overall, 1-7 from three, missed all four free throws), there was a parade to the rim for Rutgers, and if it wasn't for Steve Taylor coming out of a phone booth to tally 7 huge points, the deficit would've been much worse than the 10-point margin Marquette took into intermission.

Marquette continued to spin its tires after the break, occasionally whittling the lead down to 4 or 5 before letting Rutgers run the advantage back to 7 or 8. Still, you had a feeling that if Marquette could somehow creep within a couple points, Rutgers was going to do enough Rutgers things to allow MU to swipe the win.

And, eventually, that's exactly what happened. With the Scarlet Knights desperately clinging to a three-point lead with four minutes and change to play, Vander Blue harassed Jerome Seagears (whose name makes me think of scuba diving, which leads me to think about The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which makes me laugh because The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is a tremendous piece of American cinema) into a 10-second backcourt violation. Van followed that defensive gem with a deep three-pointer to tie the game, Jamil Wilson gave Marquette the lead with another triple soon after, and Rutgers took it from there, missing three free throws, having Seagears (heh, Life Aquatic) dribble the ball off his foot with a chance to tie the game, and turning in a final possession that went missed jumper-offensive rebound-missed jumper-offensive rebound-missed jumper-foul. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but things associated with New Jersey rarely are. Take the win, kiss the RAC goodbye, and get ready for New York.

A few other notes:

  • "Vander Blue bounced back from a few lackluster games with a massive 22-point effort, including 14 in the pivotal second half" count: 1.
  • I'm not sure what Coach Buzz will do with Jamil Wilson and Steve Taylor next year; maybe Taylor will come off the bench to spell Wilson, or maybe Jamil will continue coming off the bench and Steve will start. But the thought of two 6'8" cats on the floor at the same time, both of whom can shoot from outside and can wreak havoc defensively with their length and can create their own shot and have a nose for the ball and ... Forgive me. I think I fainted for a minute there.
  • It was an unexpectedly quiet night for Marquette's usually formidable duo of Chris Otule and Davante Gardner, as neither big man could get untracked all night. Big Chris snagged four offensive rebounds, but couldn't convert from the floor (0-3) and didn't have a defensive rebound. Big Smoove was held to just four points, two of which came on free throws with three seconds left and the outcome already decided. You can afford a zero from the frontline against a team like Rutgers (because, of course, Rutgers), but you can't expect to do much in the next couple weeks if Big Chris and/or Davante aren't contributing in a major way.
  • Junior Cadougan had his standard-issue road performance in the first half (in a word: barf), but picked things up in the second half to finish with 10 points, three assists, and three turnovers (all in the first half). Of course, because the game was on the road, Cadougan was duty-bound to clank two free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt with a minute and a half to play.
  • Todd Mayo didn't score in 11 minutes of action. I'm not sure how that happens.
  • Even in the midst of a bad game (1-4 from the line, two turnovers, no assists), Trent Lockett still finds a way to make WINNING PLAYS. This time, it was tipping the ball to Blue after Seagears (heh: "now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go on an overnight drunk and in 10 days I'm going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it") dribbled the ball off his foot with 14 seconds left, allowing Blue to salt away the game from the line.

The awards:

Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: It's OK to admit it: with a few clunkers in the last couple weeks, we were all getting a little nervous that the version of Vander Blue we've come to know and love over the last three months might not be seen again this season. "My child," says Van, "when things seemed most bleak, it was then that I carried your team to a win." Or something like that.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Jamil Wilson was a Swiss knife of efficiency yesterday, hitting two huge threes, grabbing a team-leading five rebounds, dishing out two assists and chipping in a steal and a block.

Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: Things were on the verge of getting real uncomfortable with 15:40 to go, with Rutgers leading by eight and Kadeem Jack seemingly wide open for a layup that would've ballooned the advantage to 10. But Jamil Wilson pterodactyl'd in out of nowhere, swatted Jack's layup attempt away, and then canned a three on the other end to shrink the margin to 5 with fifteen minutes left.

Up Next: The conference regular season ends with a trip to Madison Square Garden and a date with the suddenly shorthanded St. John's Johnnies, who find themselves without leading scorer D`Angelo Harrison (suspended: subordination) and the regally-named Sir`Dominic Pointer (suspended: throwin' hands).

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