In honor of Buzz Williams' 100th career win as a Division 1 head coach, the Marquette Golden Eagles went and played their best all-around game of their Big East season.
MU took down the South Florida Bulls 67-47 on Tuesday night at the Bradley Center, with the 20-point margin being their largest of their conference season. Senior Darius Johnson-Odom led the Golden Eagles with 17 points, and fellow senior Jae Crowder added 15 and had six steals, while sophomore forward Davante Gardner matched Crowder's 15, adding seven rebounds.
Gardner scored the Golden Eagles (17-4, 6-2) first six points, and forced South Florida to keep a closer eye on him defensively. Johnson-Odom says it's only a matter of time before teams start game-planning just for Gardner.
"I don't know why a lot of teams haven't really focused in on him," Johnson-Odom said. "If you're going to let him play, it's going to be a foul or a basket. We play off of him."
The hosts trailed the Bulls 7-6 at the 16-minute media timeout, but after a steal and lay-up on the break by sophomore guard Vander Blue, the Golden Eagles took the lead—for good.
That steal was just a sign of things to come from the Golden Eagles, who rarely gave South Florida (12-9, 5-3) any time to think on the ball all night, with the Bulls committing 20 turnovers on the night. That is the third time Marquette has forced that many turnovers this season, and first since the second game of the season (their first game against Norfolk State).
Not only did Marquette force a high number of turnovers, but they committed their lowest number of the year, with five. Williams says that it is a bit irregular of his team, as they've had trouble keeping control of the ball this year more than any other during his time as coach at Marquette, but with that comes other positives.
"We turn the ball over more this year than we ever have," said Williams. "The flip side of that is our assisted baskets are at an all-time high. It's a little bit of a give-and-take."
The Golden Eagles scored seven points in the last 1:05 of the first half, five of which were scored by redshirt sophomore Jamil Wilson, which extended their lead to 33-21 at the interval, and put the game out of South Florida's reach for good. Bulls coach Stan Heath said that his team had closed halves well this year, but that wasn't the case at the end of the first 20 minutes against Marquette.
"We've been doing a great job of closing halves and getting momentum plays," Heath said, then saying of the actual finish to the half, "They go into the locker room smiling and I go into the locker room yelling. Big momentum play."
Gardner's lay-up with 13:32 put the Golden Eagles up by 20 for the first time in the game, and the free throw that came with being fouled on the play made the lead 21.
Off yet another South Florida turnover, a steal by Crowder, freshman Todd Mayo dunked Marquette to their largest lead of the night at 22.
After the game was over, Williams reflected on his 100th win, saying he is extremely fortunate to be where he is, as headman of the Golden Eagles.
"What I ought to do is I ought to be at a 2-A high school in Texas as a JV assistant coach," Williams explained. "That's what I deserve. It's not about the hundred games, but I'm very thankful for all the people that have been a part of it."
Williams said after the game that his team is in a groove, and playing their best ball of the conference season. The fourth-year head coach noted the difference in his team since the second semester of school started, and said it was his team's best performance in league play.
"It was as efficient as we've been on both ends of the floor in league play," Williams said. "Our energy and our concentration has been really good since the spring semester started. I just think we're in a really good groove."
Marquette will take on the Villanova Wildcats in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, in an effort to improve on the Golden Eagles' impressive Big East record, and look to get their second conference road win.
MU clamps down on Bulls, wins 67-47
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