Marquette head coach Buzz Williams offered up his opinions on senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom following the Golden Eagles’ 82-78 win over Villanova.
“He’s in a really nice groove right now. When seniors can see the end, they shift down and say, ‘Hey, I want to make sure I get this right,’” Williams said. “He’s playing with great poise, great focus. He’s been an excellent teammate, too.”
Leading the way for Marquette, winners of six straight in the Big East, Johnson-Odom indeed has done everything right.
The senior posted one of the best lines of his three-year career Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, finishing with 26 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals in a team-high 38 minutes.
But even those numbers fail to do justice on how good Johnson-Odom was in Marquette’s latest first half deficit.
The offense started off slow for the Golden Eagles, and Johnson-Odom was no exception. He missed his first five shots and did not score until a free throw over eight minutes into the game. By that point Marquette already trailed 23-10 and was showing no signs of life.
But facing yet another first half deficit and a sporadic substitution pattern due to foul trouble, Johnson-Odom took over. With Marquette down by 18 at the 10:10 mark, Johnson-Odom scored nine points in the next three minutes to cut the Wildcats’ lead to a more manageable 11 points.
Later, with five seconds left in the first half, Johnson-Odom drained a 3-pointer from the top of the floor to cut the lead to 10 at halftime.
Johnson-Odom looked to distribute early in the second half, racking up four assists in the first seven minutes to help trim the Villanova lead to six. He and Jae Crowder then hit back-to-back 3-pointers to even the score for the first time.
Villanova responded minutes later with a Dominic Cheek 3-pointer and JayVaughn Pinkston three-point play, giving the Wildcats a 61-57 lead.
From that point on Johnson-Odom, as Williams said, got it right.
Following two free throws from Davante Gardner, Johnson-Odom’s three-point play at the 10:15 mark gave Marquette a 62-61 lead. On Marquette’s next possession he nailed a 3-pointer to re-gain the lead by two. He would go on to score 10 of Marquette’s next 12 points, and his layup at the 5:41 mark gave the Golden Eagles a 71-69 lead that they would never give back.
Fellow senior Jae Crowder’s 20 points and 11 rebounds (including 13 points, eight rebounds in the second half) were vital to the comeback, but the afternoon belonged largely to Johnson-Odom.
And, really, the longest winning streak in the Big East has belonged to him, too.
During Marquette’s six-game winning streak, Johnson-Odom has averaged 19.7 points on 47 percent shooting (17 3-pointers on 45 percent shooting) and has been instrumental in helping Marquette dig their way out of early deficits.
But maybe most important of all is that Johnson-Odom has been the vocal leader in huddles and on the court. Following a long line of senior leaders (Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler), Johnson-Odom has shook off a relatively slow start to the season and thrown his name in for Big East player of the year consideration.
“I think me and Jae (Crowder), we know what we have to do,” Johnson-Odom told ESPN.com. “We don’t want to look back and say, ‘We wish we could have done this a little bit better.’ We’re gonna go hard at everything we do, no matter if it’s practice or things off the court.”
Whether or not Marquette’s star has seen the end and is making an extra effort to get things done right as Williams suggested, one thing is clear: If Johnson-Odom continues to produce like he did Saturday afternoon, that “end” won’t come until deep into the NCAA Tournament.