A strange thing happened this past Tuesday night, on the way to a back breaking, soul crushing, hang your head in shame type of loss. A loss, at home, to a Butler team that is struggling mightily in its first Big East season. A loss that was certain to have the pitchforks and torches out in abundance, all across Marquette Nation. En route to that humiliating, demoralizing loss, YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles found a spark, and got a herculean effort from a player that decided that he was going to put the team on his back and wasn't going to let it go down like that. And that player... was Todd Mayo.
Yes folks, it's true. Tuesday night's matchup with the Bulldogs of Butler was on course to be one of those games that you remember years later, and makes you shudder every time one of your friends brings it up. It seemed destined to join the pantheon of barf bag caliber performances, alongside such greats as: at DePaul in 2010, Western Michigan in the 2005 NIT, and the entire Bob Dukiet era. Neither team seemed capable of throwing the ball into Lake Michigan in the early going. And you knew we were going to be in for a real treat, when Marquette led 2-0 at the first TV timeout.
While the rest of the first half wasn't as brutal as the first four minutes, there was a general "rock fight" feel to the game. Khyle Marshall, MU's nemesis from the first meeting, converted an old fashioned 3-point play to give Butler the lead late in the half. Marquette had a chance to draw up a play to try to steal the lead, and a little momentum, in the final seconds, but wound up getting an inexplicable 3-point attempt from Davante Gardner with 6 seconds left on the clock. (In Davante's defense, he was really open).
In the second half, Butler came out firing and Marquette most certainly did not. The problem was compounded by the fact that Jamil Wilson, whose 13 points represented the bulk of the Golden Eagles' scoring at that stage, picked up his 3rd and 4th fouls in the span of about 30 seconds... less than 3 minutes into the half. With Jamil on the bench, Butler put together a 7-0 spurt over the next couple minutes, to extend their lead to 10 and effectively suck all of the air out of the building. Things were looking so dire that Coach Buzz put Jamil back into the game, with his four fouls, with 15:40 still to play. By the 13 minute mark, it was 43-33 Butler. And if you're into KenPom win probabilities (and I know you are), the needle had swung to 75% chance of Butler closing this one out.
I don't know what was said in the timeout at that point, but I'm guessing it was something like, "Todd, I don't care what you have to do, go get us some GD points." After that timeout, Todd Mayo was off the chain. Mayo scored 10 points in the next 3 minutes, including 7 straight to tie the game at 50. Suddenly, a team that looked like it was all but dead just minutes earlier, had life and the crowd, which had been just as dejected (if not more so), was on its feet.
But we have seen this move before: Get down, rally back, but never quite get back in front. Kellen Dunham answered the MU run with a dagger 3-pointer, to quite the newly energized crowd. But Jake Thomas was able to return the favor, with a triple of his own - his only FG of the game.
From there, things remained tight. Marquette was hanging around, but was never able to take the lead. That's when Mayo got loose again. Todd went off for another personal 7-0 run, tying the game with a layup, putting MU ahead with another layup, and punctuating it by grabbing a defensive board and taking it coast to coast for a third straight layup - plus the foul! That put Marquette ahead by five, with 3:00 to play, and they would finish it out from there. So scratch the soul crushing defeat, and replace it with an inspirational, come from behind VICTORY.
- Mayo is going to get the headlines, but Deonte Burton was integral to the MU comeback effort as well. He scored 7 of his 11 points during the game turning rally in the second half. I love the kid's aggressiveness, and the creative ways he can score. However, his shot selection often leaves something to be desired. But you take the good with the bad.
- Butler wasn't the only ones to come out of the half all revved up. The officials came out firing as well. They called 9 fouls in the first 5:30 of the second half - 7 of those on Marquette. So you have a lackluster game, a home team that is going belly up, and a barrage of whistles going almost entirely against the home team . It's no wonder the crowd was getting a little agitated.
- Speaking of which... As the game was circling the drain early in the second half, Buzz's friends the boo birds made another appearance. It wasn't a lot, but there were definitely a few.
- Somehow, after being reinserted with four fouls, Jamil Wilson was able to play the rest of the way without fouling out. Go figure.
- The offense wasn't the only reason we were able to pull this one out of the fire. The defense was turned up in the second half as well. For the game, Marquette tallied 11 steals. Derrick Wilson led the way with 5 of those, and Burton added 4 more. They also forced Butler (#29 in TO% on KenPom) into 20 turnovers - nearly double their per game average.
- So, you called a starting lineup of D. Wilson, J. Wilson, Gardner, Thomas, and TreyJay??? No you didn't.
- Freshman minutes tracker: Burton - 17, Johnson - 12, Dawson - 7.
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: I nearly dusted off the Vander Blue Grown Ass Man Award for this one, because Todd Mayo was handling business. We all know that Todd runs hot and cold, and when he's cold, he can sometimes play himself right out of the game. But when he's hot, he is the most dangerous scorer currently on the roster. Buzz said in Michael Hunt's JSOnline post today, "When the chips are down, he shows up." When the chips were down on Tuesday, Todd went for 17 points, on 7-10 shooting, and rescued the game for Marquette.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: You could make the case for either Derrick or Deonte to get the Fulce for this one. Derrick had some nice assist numbers (8) and the 5 steals we mentioned. But the 4 turnovers give me pause. We documented Deonte's numbers, but man some of the shots he decides to take (namely the airball 3-pointer), cause me to hesitate to give him the nod. So we'll have a vote, in the comments this week. Who gets the Fulce for the Butler game: Deonte, Derrick, or someone else? The winner will get the customary prize - a bag of Chex Mix and a half drank bottle of Blatz.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: My favorite play of the game came in the first half, before all the doom and gloom set in. Mayo got a steal and then threaded a long bounce pass to Davante for the two-handed dunk, complete with hanging on the rim and everything. The steal was nice, the pass was sick, the dunk was a lot of fun, but the part that made the play for me was the catch. Davante had to reach down around his knees, catch the ball with his finger tips, and was able to control it, while never breaking stride. That's tough to do for a big fella, but the Ox made it look easy.
Up Next: A week off to balance out some of the "competitive inequities in the schedule." The Golden Eagles next take the floor on February 11th, in a (probable) 12% full Prudential Center, against Seton Hall. The Pirates were last seen throwing a major wrench into Xavier's NCAA Tournament hopes. That game tips at 6:00 CST, next Tuesday. See you all in the Game Thread!