Baby Steps: St. John's 74, Marquette 59

Nate Shron

We took a couple of days to stew on it, and we've decided we're OK with what went down for Marquette at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

This is a much different recap than the one I had written immediately after YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles' feeble showing against St. John's on Saturday.

Emotions were a bit raw after Marquette got run out of the gym against the super-talented but underachieving Johnnies, and we were ready to put Coach Buzz's crew on blast for a whole bunch of reasons: letting St. John's only serviceable jump shooter, D'Angelo Harrison, get loose for six 3-pointers and 27 points; driving time and again straight into the teeth of St. John's impressive interior defense, which resulted in 12 total blocks for SJU and a staggering seven (7!) for Chris Obekpa in just 21 minutes; Jamil Wilson's weak-kneed 1-point, 0-5 from the field performance that got him sat for the entire second half; Davante Gardner loafing up and down the court for 23 minutes; the latest edition of Todd Mayo Turnover-palooza; and an especially timid performance on the backboards, as St. John's put home several second-chance baskets.

But having taken a couple of days to think about it, I'm (relatively) OK with what happened on Saturday based on these four numbers:

Jajuan Johnson: 23 minutes played. Steve Taylor, Jr.: 19 minutes played. Deonte Burton: 17 minutes played. John Dawson: 11 minutes played.

If this is what it takes to get the freshmen (and Taylor) significant run in this lost season, fine by me. If this is what it takes to finally convince Coach Buzz that it's time to give up on Jamil and Mayo and Jake Thomas and Ox and play for 2015, I'll grin and bear it. Gimme a whole half of Davante letting his man get ten steps ahead of him down the floor; gimme ten minutes of Jamil shooting 3s and off-balance baseline jumpers; gimme three straight possessions of Mayo trying to take on the entire opposing 5 to make sure he gets his -- I'm cool with all of it, provided it leads to the kids getting the lion's share of the minutes in the second half.

Granted: we're not quite where we need to be in terms of minutes distribution. Thomas somehow snagged 20 minutes of floor time, which should be his total for five games, and Derrick Wilson got 29 minutes, which is about 15 too many (and don't be fooled into thinking his 14 points on Saturday amount to anything; 10 came in the last 7 minutes of the game, when things devolved to summer league levels of play. Derrick was just as bad as everybody else).

But it's a step in the right direction, and as long as you ignore Buzz's nonsense in his post-game press conferences* about having a fighting chance at an NCAA berth -- and here's some unsolicited advice to coach about how to respond should Michael Hunt or some other reporter start asking about the Tournament after tomorrow's game: you're focused on the next game and only the next game, because you're not good enough to look any further than that -- and take a long view of what Marquette needs to accomplish in the next nine games, things don't look so bad.

* Since we haven't opined on them in this space yet, permit me a brief moment to offer three comments on Coach Buzz's "our kids try. Our kids try. They're great human beings" rant after the Providence game, when the team heard some boos from the home crowd during a 16-0 PC run. For one: those boos came from a handful of fans, at most, which raises the question of why Buzz felt the need to respond in the first place. For two: was Buzz seriously suggesting a smattering of boos was the most disappointing thing to happen during his tenure as MU's head coach, when, just a couple of years ago, the entire university got lambasted on the front page of the Chicago freaking Tribune because of sexual assault allegations made against a few of his players? Perspective much, coach?

And for three: this "they're great human beings off the court" stuff is the kind of Millennial bullshit that drives me up the wall. Do you remember that riff Chris Rock had a few years back about people wanting credit for stuff they're supposed to be doing anyway, like men saying: "Hey, I raise my kids" as if it's somehow praiseworthy to perform ordinary parenting tasks? This is the same kind of thing. When did "player is not complete and total derelict off the court" become a standard to aspire to and not the baseline? Have things really fallen off that far?

Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: Some folks seem to think that Duane Wilson could have been a big boost for Marquette this season, and given the sorry state of the Golden Eagles' point guard position, that makes some sense. Still: we've no idea if Duane Wilson can actually play yet, so it's hard for me to get too worked up about what might have been. The same, however, cannot be said of Deonte Burton. That kid can play. And there was enough in Saturday's 11-point, 4-offensive rebound performance to make you sigh and wonder if he should have been getting 20 minutes a night right off the bat.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: He couldn't hit from the field, but anytime you grab nine rebounds (including four on the offensive end) in just 17 minutes of action, you're guaranteed the Fulce. Here's to you, Juan Anderson.

Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: Derrick Wilson hit a floater a minute into the game to give Marquette a 2-0 lead. This was as good as things would get.

Up Next: The woebegone Butler Bulldogs, losers of seven of their last nine, make their first trip to Milwaukee as members of the Big East conference tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m.

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