Leading the Golden Eagle attack was newcomer Jae Crowder who finished with a game-high 15 points to go along with 10 rebounds and four assists. Crowder got help from fellow big man Chris Otule who quietly finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in just 16 minutes of action. Darius Johnson-Odom was the other double-figure scorer, finishing with 12 points in 24 minutes.
Marquette started slow as they went without a basket until the 17:47 mark when senior Joe Fulce tipped in an offensive rebound to cut the Johnnie lead to one. The Golden Eagles seemed to struggle at times with their defensive assignments as St. John's used an array of screens and motion to free up their outside shooters. The Johnnies finished the half 6-18 from beyond the arch, yet were turned over seven times.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first half was head coach Buzz Williams' starting line-up and rotation. Buzz went with a veteran line-up starting seniors Dwight Buycks and Joe Fulce with sophomore Chris Otule alongside returning starters Jimmy Butler and DJO. The man who many thought owned the starting point guard position –
Junior Cadougan – did not appear until the 6:38 mark as Buzz elected to give freshman Reggie Smith the nod before him. Smith immediately seemed to provide a spark though as he proceeded to knock down two straight three-pointers while being a pest on the defensive end.
Williams said Cadougan's late appearance was a combination of many factors, the biggest being the recent play of Buycks.
"Buycks has been really good as a player, not specific to any [one] position. He's been really good as a leader of our group," Coach Williams said. "Obviously he's ahead of Junior and Reggie relative to all that we do. You get what you earn, and he's earned it."
The Golden Eagles took a 38-25 lead into the locker room fueled not only by a 17-3 advantage in fast break points but a 22-4 margin in points in the paint. DJO and Otule were the noticeable benefactors of these statistics as they finished the half with eight and six points respectively. Marquette fans were left with no doubt in their minds that Johnson-Odom will be a hand-full to guard as he continuously slashed into the lane either finding the basket or an open teammate. Otule on the other hand filled his role beautifully, cleaning up the offensive glass and making the most of his opportunities in the post.
Coach Williams said after the game, "I think Chris has really improved. There are parts of his game that he is still unsure of, and I think a lot of it is that he hasn't played. There are [also] parts of his game that are good and he's still never played. He's still got things to work on."
The second half opened much like the first as Marquette looked a bit sloppy, the Johnnies took advantage of this and cut the lead to ten at the 15:08 mark off of a three by junior guard Andy Burns. From there however, Crowder and company took over pushing the lead to as many as 28. The reigning JUCO player of the year poured in 13 of his 15 points in the final twenty minutes and was a monster on the boards all the while proving he is a threat to score from nearly anywhere.
"I think Jae is really good," Coach Williams said. "He has great instincts, he's a great human being, and he understands and does not shy away from how we work and the culture that we work in. He's picked up what we do, and we're going to need him to be good nightly."
Fans were given the opportunity to see a good deal of the highly touted freshman class in the second half as Jamail Jones and Davante Gardner made their debuts and Madison native Vander Blue also saw significant minutes – Blue first appeared midway through the first half.
Early on, it became apparent that Blue will see major minutes this year as his defensive play really sets him apart from his fellow classmates. Blue hounded the Johnnie guards and showed an ability to get to the tin. He finished with four points, four rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes.
Gardner and Jones while not as defensively-sound as Blue did show signs that they can contribute this year. Jones looked very fluid coming off of screens and knocking down shots and Gardner consistently got great positioning down low and wasn't afraid to attack the basket when given a chance. Jones and Gardner finished with seven and three points respectively in limited minutes.
Throughout the game, the freshman that impressed most was point guard Reggie Smith. Smith scored 8 points with back to back three pointers in the first half, but more importantly had 7 assists and no turnovers, showing he can take care of the ball.
The Johnnies were led by senior Sam Blank, who finished with 13 points and 3 rebounds. Last year's leading scorer, Aaron Burtzel, was held to 4 points in 30 minutes of action.
Saturday's game marked the return of Marquette alumnus Jim Smith, head coach of St. John's. Smith played four years at Marquette under Tex Winter from 1952-1956, and was also an assistant coach of the Warriors from 1956-1961.
The Golden Eagles return to action Friday night against Prairie View A&M in their regular season opener, tipping off at 7:30 pm CST at the Bradley Center. =====================================
Notes: John Dodds interview with St John's Coach Jim Smith, a former player at MU['52-56] and asst coach under Jack Nagle and Eddie Hickey.
Audio link #1: 3 min…Jim Smith on the quickness of MU…
Audio link 2: 4 min…..Jim smith recruited by Tex Winter…the youngest coach in D-1 when he arrived at MU…played for Jack Nagle….later became an asst coach….Hank Raymonds took over when Jim Smith left…coaching Don Kojis…54-55 team lost to Iowa before the Final Four…