There was a fair amount of fretting (much of it from me) before YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles took the court against the pitiable Pirates of Seton Hall last night. While Seton Hall is no great shakes this year, having dropped 12 of its last 13 games after a conference-season-opening win over DePaul, and having lost a handful of players to injury, and featuring a roster that, outside of Fuquan Edwin and Eugene Teague, is either (a) very young, (b) very bad at basketball, or (c) both very young and very bad at basketball, there were still reasons for concern.
For one, despite all those losses, Seton Hall has only been blown out a couple of times in Big East play, and even in those rare games when they've lost by double digits (vs. Louisville, vs. Syracuse, for example), the games were of the "much closer than the final score would indicate" variety. For another, the game was at the Prudential Center, and YOUR Golden Eagles have already proven themselves capable of losing to very bad teams on the road. For another another, Marquette was fresh off an emotional domination of Pitt on Saturday, and you figured that it would be tough to keep up that level of play against inferior competition.
For a half, at least, those fears appeared well founded. Marquette and Seton Hall traded (infrequent) baskets in the opening 20 minutes, and though MU brutalized the Pirates on the glass (owning a mind-boggling 29-12 rebound advantage at halftime), it couldn't cash in its second and third chances. Ten first-half turnovers were a major thorn in the side, and after SHU closed the half with a 7-0 run to knot the game at 27, there was a growing sense that it'd be Pepto cocktails for everybody after intermission.
Now: I don't know exactly what happened in the Marquette locker room at the half. I imagine there were some harsh words, given the pratfall in the last minute of the first half, and it wouldn't surprise me if a locker was kicked or a clipboard was thrown or a dry-erase marker was snapped in half. I do know, however, that whatever happened in those 15 minutes cost Coach Buzz Williams the shirt on his back, quite literally, as Coach emerged from the locker room wearing a v-neck sweater over a t-shirt instead of the handsome shirt-and-tie combo he'd been sporting in the first half.
Thankfully, the shirt's demise was not in vain: with fresh embers toasting their tushes, the Golden Eagles obliterated the Pirates with a 25-1 run over a nine-minute stretch in the second half, turning what was a 33-32 deficit into a 57-34 stranglehold. MU was ruthlessly efficient on both ends of the floor, with Vander Blue kickstarting the run with a layup and three-pointer and Davante Gardner using his trick-bag of post moves to tally 10 points, and with Marquette forcing the Hall into six turnovers, including three by overmatched point guard Tom Maayan. When all was said and done, MU ran up 40 second-half points while holding SHU to 19 and escaped Newark with an impressive 67-46 win.
A few other notes on the action:
- "Vander Blue had a quietly efficient 19" count: 8.
- "Junior Cadougan had another stinker on the road" count: 5, I think? (At UWGB, at Florida, at Louisville, at Georgetown, at Seton Hall, right?)
- For fear of jinxing it, I'm not going to point out that Jamil Wilson has played a lot better since we wrote him off as a guy who was content to play third fiddle and would likely never reach his potential. This is me, not pointing this out. It's over there, and I'm not pointing at it. Stop making me talk about it lest I inadvertently point it out.
- Somehow, Chris Otule is threatening to become my favorite player on the team. The stones he's shown in coming back from his well-documented series of injuries has a lot to do with it, of course, but at least once a game in the last few weeks, he makes a play that elicits a "F*** YEAH, BIG CHRIS" from the congregation. Yesterday, it was his dunk that restored MU to the lead early in the second half and paved the way for the big run.
- Fearless prediction: Steve Taylor Jr. will be my favorite player next year. He gives me hot flashes and I don't even have lady parts.
- For the first time last night, I was moved to say: "Dang, we're really going to miss Trent Lockett next year." I did not expect to be saying this two weeks ago.
The awards, then:
Jae Crowder Player of the Year of the Game: When he only managed four free throws in the first half, you wondered if Davante Gardner was in for another frustrating evening, a la the Georgetown game a week ago. But somebody waved a red blankie in front of the Ox at the half, ‘cuz dude went to work after the break, making his usual assortment of nifty lay-ins and putbacks and, just for shits and giggles, doing his best Tim Duncan impression by sinking a 12-foot jumper off the window. For the night, the Big Fundamental finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and a steal, and one GIF (more on that below) in 25 minutes.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Nine points. Eight boards. Two assists. Two steals. Two blocks. No turnovers. One charge drawn. One Fulce award for Trent Lockett.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: We've already mentioned it, but Chris Otule's dunk following Juan Anderson's missed layup with 18:30 to go in the game was a huge shot in the arm for MU, as the team appeared shaken and forlorn by whatever happened to Coach Buzz's shirt at halftime.
NEW FEATURE! Davante's LOxL of the Week: What motivated Big Smoove to attempt this running, three-step, half-baby-hook-half-shot-put thing, I'm not sure. But we thank him for doing so. (Apologies for the quality of the gif. Still learning how to do this. I'll try to fix it later.)
Up Next: The boys are back on the road this Saturday, facing a desperate Villanova team that's come out of nowhere to reignite its once-dead NCAA Tournament hopes.