Did One Team Win Or Did One Team Lose? Marquette 66, DePaul 56

The Big Hustle? - Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

So. Do you want to start with the half-full or the half-empty portion of the glass?

It’s 40 below and my eyelashes froze together on the walk from the car this morning. Let’s get the nasty stuff out of the way first and move on to happier topics.

YOUR intrepid Marquette Golden Eagles put on their miners’ hats and went ‘splorin’ for the bottom of the well for the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s battle of ennui with the DePaul Blue Demons, and if they didn’t find rock bottom, they only missed by a few inches. With Davante Gardner inserted into the starting lineup to try to inject some life into MU’s flagging offense, Marquette burst from the gates with all the grace and power of a blind mule at the Kentucky Derby. After DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin sank three wide-open 3-pointers just minutes into the contest, Marquette found itself down 14-3 and didn’t tally a field goal until seven minutes were gone in the first half.

Derrick Wilson hasn’t done anything to suggest he’s the answer at point guard, but somehow, Jamil Wilson looked like an even worse option in his brief turn at the helm. There was a concerted effort to feed the post with Gardner and Chris Otule in the game, which was a welcome sight after Ox had only a handful of touches against Creighton, but there was still no flow to the offense: a lot of standing and watching while the guy with the ball worked to get his own shot.

Marquette used a couple of transition-bucket-fueled runs to cut DePaul’s lead at the half to four points, and then pulled off the impressive trick of coming out even flatter for the second half, allowing DePaul to blow the lead up to 10 – which is the equivalent of a 20-point lead for a team with a pulse – as the midway point of the second half approached.

Then came a couple of bombs from Jake Thomas, and, more importantly, a barn-full of Ox, as Gardner overwhelmed the hopelessly, hilariously overmatched DePaul front line en route to a career-high 28 points. With its big men in foul trouble and with Melvin showing zero interest on the defensive side of the floor, Big Nimble took advantage of single coverage to score on his standard-issue variety of dips and hooks and grunts.

And just like that, Marquette turned that 10-point deficit into a double-digit advantage in the final minutes of the game, holding DePaul (or, perhaps more accurately, allowing DePaul to hold itself) to 16 points in the game’s last 16 minutes, and limiting Melvin to just 2 points in the last dozen (or so) minutes.

On the positive side, then, Marquette found a way to win a game it absolutely could not lose. Still: other than the final line score, there wasn’t a whole lot to be enthused about here. After Derrick Wilson’s abysmal showing against Creighton, it was reassuring to see Coach Buzz isn’t above removing anyone from the lineup – but, really, Wilson’s benching was in name only, as he was still on the floor for 31 minutes. Deonte Burton again showed flashes of jaw-dropping raw talent, getting to the rim at will whenever he was in the game. And yet those bursts were canceled out when, after getting to the rim, he practically spiked (as in Karch Kiraly-spiked) the ball off the backboard. Jajuan Johnson didn’t sniff the floor, which is baffling and disturbing for a whole bunch of reasons, and Jamil Wilson coughed the ball up 6 times, and Todd Mayo got his and didn’t do much else, because Todd Mayo always gets his and doesn’t do much else.

Maybe the light switch went on in the last 10 minutes of the game. (Of course, we said that against George Washington, and after the furious second-half rally in Madison, and in the first half against New Mexico.) Maybe Gardner is back on track after a couple of lackluster weeks. (Of course, you’re not going to find many teams as willing as DePaul was to have one uncoordinated stiff get abused on the block time and again, without a hint of help defense.) Maybe the team saw that, with its busted offense, its only hope is to clamp down on defense. (Of course, you’re not going to find many teams where your primary defensive tactic can be: "Get out of their way, they’ll screw this up on their own.") Maybe this is just going to be a year of maybes and couldas and wouldas and didn’ts.

Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: With precious little help from his friends, Davante Gardner put the team on his back, hitting 9 of 14 from the floor and, more impressively, 10 of 11 from the line to set a new career high with 28 points.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: There’s not much to choose from here, as only eight Marquette players saw the court and most of them had forgettable performances. Jamil Wilson certainly qualifies with his six turnovers, but he made an incredible hustle play as he dove out of bounds to save a loose ball in the second half, and he finished the afternoon with 14 points and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes.

Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: DePaul was nursing a one-point lead with 7 minutes to go in the second half when the Blue Demons missed not one, not two, but three chances to extend the lead. After finally corralling the ball, Big Smoove made ‘em pay on the other end with a lay-in that gave MU the lead.

Up Next: The tour of new conference haunts continues, as MU pays a visit to the Cintas Center to battle new old friend Xavier at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday.

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