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No. 25 Marquette 63, USF 50: Mr. Blue's Big Day

This just in: Vander Blue can play basketball a little bit.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

There were a lot of things in Marquette's game against South Florida last night that could be filed under "Yeah, That's About What I Expected": with both teams having played Saturday afternoon, and with USF having trekked to Milwaukee Saturday night, and with the Bulls' clunky, ball-control offense and Marquette's oft-spotty three-pointing, you figured we might be in for a something of a slobberknocker. The first half gave you exactly that, as the teams combined for almost 20 turnovers, MU was broke from outside, and South Florida did its best to grind the game to a halt.

The second half, though, came with a couple of surprises. Although you suspected that Marquette was eventually going to exploit the gaping hole in the middle of South Florida's defense, you probably figured the exploiting would be done by Davante Gardner, or maybe Jamil Wilson or Juan Anderson. Instead, after Davante's night ended early thanks to an errant elbow, it was Vander Blue who sliced and diced the Bulls from inside and out, hitting 13-20 shots overall and 12-15 from two-point range en route to a career-best 30 points, including 21 in the second half.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way so we can focus on the good: with about 13 minutes to go in the second half, Gardner stuffed Zach LeDay's jumper attempt on the baseline. Both men grabbed the ball, and after about a second, the referee blew the play dead. Gardner, for whatever reason, then attempted to rip the ball away from LeDay, and this happened (not this slowly, of course):

(Note, if you would, Vander's reaction after Ox decks LeDay. I think 13 knew that Gardner was gettin' run right away.)

Big Smoove was slapped with a Fragrant 2 foul -- and looking at the rule, there's really no argument that it wasn't a Flagrant 2: he made contact with his elbow above the shoulders after the whistle blew -- and was sent to the showers, but word this morning is that Gardner won't have to sit out Marquette's game against Louisville on Sunday.

Back to the good: Vander Blue was sublime. He attempted 20 shots, but none of them -- OK, maybe his bullrush into the lane with 2 minutes left which resulted in a charge call -- seemed forced. He couldn't hit from deep, and he had a couple of hiccups from the line, but that's nitpicking. His decision-making in attacking USF's 2-3 zone was superb: he changed speeds, waited, waited, used screens, and then darted into the lane for layup after layup. And when the lane wasn't open, he deftly pulled up for short jumpers, the most impressive of which came just before Gardner's ejection, when USF attempted to bait Blue into a charge as he raced up the court in transition. Two years ago (hell, two months ago), Vander probably ramps it up to 120mph and bowls over the defender. This time, Blue waited for the South Florida defender to get set, then stopped on a dime and rattled home a 10-foot jumper.

A couple of other notes on the action:

  • I am falling hard for Steve Taylor Jr. "Hang on, baby," Buzz laughed to Steve "The Homer" True in his post-game interview. "He's gonna be good. REAL good." I might add a "sooner rather than later" to that comment, and if Jamil Wilson continues his troubling pattern of picking up ticky-tack fouls by hip-checking opposing point guards, that's a very good thing.
  • You usually hear about energy guys coming off the bench, but Juan Anderson is the rare energy guy who starts every game -- and for good reason. Dude is a blur of activity on both ends of the floor, which more than compensates for the fact that he's probably half as physically talented as Jamil. And, in my totally subjective and in no way provable assessment, he looks like a great teammate.
  • The silver lining in Gardner's ejection was the increased run for Chris Otule. Big man still doesn't look quite right; the first few steps when he pivots to run up court are painful to watch. But he's still a force in the paint and had a lot to do with South Florida shooting just 7-36 (19%!!1!1!) on two-point attempts. Shots in the paint were altered, rushed, or declined altogether with Big Chris guarding the tin, and Otule finished the night with 4 blocks on his ledger.
  • While we're talkin' defense: Junior Cadougan and Derrick Wilson were excellent on USF's flea-sized point guard, Anthony Collins, who was harassed into 0-8 shooting from the field, just 4 assists, and 4 turnovers.
  • I don't know what's going on with Todd Mayo, who logged just six minutes after being held out of Saturday's game against Providence. I'm betting you don't, either.
  • I missed a few sequences in the first half because I was watching the interaction of South Florida coach Stan Heath and ref Gene Steratore, the best of which was captured by Matt Trebby:

Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: What can you say about Vander Blue that has already been said in this recap? Oh: he had six rebounds, for good measure.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Trent Lockett didn't do much in the scoring department once again, but you've got to be strong on the backboards with a team that shoots as poorly as South Florida, and Lockett did his part and then some in that department, finishing with eight rebounds to boost MU to a 33-27 edge on the glass. He also chipped in 10 points, hit 4 free-throws, had 3 assists, a steal, and his standard-issue four turnovers.

Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: It's tempting to give the award to Vander's alley-oop at the beginning of the second half, but we haven't said enough about Junior Cadougan today: with Marquette up 11 with 10 minutes to go in the game, Blue snagged a rebound and led the break up court, but made a poor pass to Cadougan that had Junior falling out of bounds on the baseline. Somehow, Junior had the awareness to find Lockett cutting in from the wing, and Lockett's layup pushed MU's lead to 13.

Up Next: Things are looking pretty for YOUR Golden Eagles, who have a share of first place in the Big East with a 6-1 conference record. But there's a huge test looming on Sunday, as MU travels to the KFC Yum! Center to tangle with Louisville, the team that everybody and their brother is picking to cut down the nets in Atlanta in April.