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New Year, Old DJO: No. 14/13 Marquette 81, Villanova 77

As far as get-off-the-mat performances go, today's effort by YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles in the Big East opener against Villanova went reasonably well: Marquette got the scoring started with a perfectly-executed alley-oop from Vander Blue to Darius Johnson-Odom 30 seconds into the game, and MU never gave up the lead after that. Despite an atypical off day from Jae Crowder (9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 5 fouls in 25 minutes), Marquette ballooned its advantage to 11 halfway through through the first half, and after a Wildcat rally trimmed the halftime deficit to 3, MU ran past 'Nova in the opening minutes of the second half to establish a comfortable 15-point cushion.

Still: this game wasn't without its warts, which ranged from Crowder's quiet day to a spotty performance on D to Marquette's frustrating inability to put the 'Cats away in the game's final minutes, highlighted by an 8-for-14 performance from the charity stripe in the final 2:30 of the game. The outcome wasn't really in doubt during the second half, but MU made things a lot more difficult than they needed to be in the last 90 seconds, with the missed free throws, silly fouls on defense, and a couple of headscratching turnovers turning a 10-point victory into a four-point squeaker.

All that said, the day's most welcome development was the resurgence of Johnson-Odom, who'd been out of sorts (relatively speaking, of course) since an undisclosed violation of team rules got him suspended for Marquette's game against Northern Colorado a couple weeks back. DJO wasn't himself in losses to LSU and Vanderbilt, but he was the Darius of old in the first game of the New Year: sinking jumpers from all over the floor, excellent from distance (4-6), and even corralling six rebounds for good measure. DJO set the tone for this game by scoring 16 of Marquette's first 32 points and, when all was said and done, he had 24 points on 8-18 shooting, six boards, three assists, and one fanbase breathing a big sigh of relief.

A few more notes and the awards, after the jump.

  • I appear to be in the minority on this, but I didn't think Jamil Wilson was very good today. Yes, he had 11 points and three steals, but three rebounds in 31 minutes from your starting "center," plus two turnovers and an up-and-down performance on defense? Plus, dude loves his jumper in the same way I love Phil Collins' "Sussudio" -- which is to say: inexplicably. I didn't see much reason to be excited about Jamil's performance in this game, but if you did, lemme know what I missed.
  • On the other hand: aside from his struggles at the line (3-8), I thought Vander Blue was pretty good overall. He had a couple of pretty takes to the rim, didn't force the issue on offense (2-5 from the floor), and even ran the offense for a few minutes with Junior Cadougan on the bench. But most impressive of all: with Crowder and Wilson ineffective on the glass, Van did the heavy lifting on the defensive boards, hauling in seven rebounds (six on D, one on offense), including an impressive sequence when he skied for the board, snared it with one hand, spun and began dribbling up the floor in one motion.
  • I feel kinda bad pointing it out, but at the same time, it warrants mentioning: Marquette had two players foul out in the last couple minutes of the game, and Crowder only played 5 minutes in the first half, and Davante Gardner had four fouls for a good portion of the second half. And Jamail Jones didn't get off the bench. At all. That's not good.
  • For a guy who can't really jump and walks like he's got the knees of a 45-year-old rec league player, Davante Gardner is always around the basketball. Ox ended his day with 13 points and 10 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass. At this point, we've got enough of a sample size to say that it's more than dumb luck that Big Smooth grabs so many offensive boards; big fella knows what he's doing down there.
  • Todd Mayo has some maddening freshman moments -- for instance: when he jacked a three from the corner with 25 seconds left on the shot clock and two minutes left, or when he dribbled into a triple team with 45 seconds left and got bailed out by a foul call from Jim Burr -- but you don't need to know much about basketball to see why Buzz wants him in the floor during crunch time. The Spread is fearless, has a nice stroke from the line (he was 6-7 on the day and was the only guy who didn't look overwhelmed at the line in the last minute), and he wants the ball in his hands when the nitty gets gritty.

Let's hand out some hardware:

Jimmy Butler Player of the Game Award: A banner day for Darius Johnson-Odom, and a well-earned trip to Applebee's after the game. (I hope he had the chicken finger platter. It's the only thing that's worth ordering at the 'Bee.)

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Davante Gardner was big on the glass and showed some nifty moves in the paint, but the nod for the Fulce tonight goes to Vander Blue for leading the team in defensive rebounds with six in 23 minutes.

Davante "Big Smooth" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: DJO's alley-oop to open the scoring was nice, and Jae Crowder's behind-the-back dish to Jamil Wilson was tasty, but today's Smoothie goes to Coach Buzz Williams, who displayed an impressive vertical while trying to signal for a timeout at the end of the first half. All that leapin' probably wouldn't have been necessary had today's officiating crew been led by someone other than ...

Drunken Hobbit Jim Burr Boner Call of the Game: If these numbers are right, this was Drunken Hobbit Jim Burr's twenty-eighth game of the season, and he was less than 24 hours removed from officiating yesterday's Nebraska-Michigan State game in Lincoln. So it should've come as no surprise that the jet-lagged Hobbit was involved in a number of curious calls, most of which worked to Marquette's benefit. But my favorite call on the day came when Jamil Wilson and Dominic Cheek collided with 12 minutes left in the game: the official with the clearest view of the play signaled an offensive foul on Cheek (which was probably the wrong call), but Burr wasn't about to let someone steal his thunder: though he was screened out of the play by at least two players, Burr nevertheless overruled his colleague and decreed that the foul was on Wilson, not Cheek, much to the chagrin of everyone who wasn't Jay Wright.

Up Next: A trip to the nation's capital and a date with the streaking Georgetown Hoyas, who sit 2-0 in the conference and will almost certainly be ranked in the top 10 when the polls are released tomorrow.

Until then.