Junior Cadougan saved Marquette Tuesday night from falling to 0-1 in Big East play, and dropping an all-important home contest, when he drained a 30-foot shot at the buzzer to send the Golden Eagles and UConn into overtime. Cadougan would add three points and an assist in the extra period, and Marquette picked up a second huge 3-pointer — this time from Vander Blue — to beat the Huskies, 82-76, in Milwaukee.
It was a play — Cadougan grabbed the inbound pass with 5.9 seconds left, squared up Ryan Boatright, and sunk the shot as the clock hit zero — that will go down as one of the bigger shots in Cadougan’s career (he said he had never come close to hitting a shot that big in his life) and a memorable one for quite some time, and it was yet another clutch second half shot from Cadougan, whose splits before and after halftime show a senior leader stepping up when called upon.
At shoot-around the day of the game, Junior looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I go this.’ He said if I’ve gotta make a bunch of shots or get a rebound, we got it. And I said, ‘I know, Junior. I know you know how to win,’” fill-in coach Brad Autry said after the game. “So I don’t think I was surprised by it.”
Added Cadougan: “When I had the ball in my hands with 5 seconds left, I knew I had to get a couple rhythm dribbles and shoot it to make it, and I made the shot.”
The lack of a true go-to scorer has been well-documented all year. Davante Gardner only playing 21 minutes per game hurts him, and Vander Blue is more of a No. 2 scorer playing the role of a No. 1 — his 13.3 points per game would have ranked third on the team each of the last three seasons.
And while Cadougan, a pass-first point guard by nature, won’t be challenging Russ Smith for the Big East scoring title, his second half scoring barrage has been a major lift for Marquette after halftime.
Head coach Buzz Williams has played Cadougan almost identically in both the first and second halves (169 first half minutes to 180 second half minutes), so per-half averages are essentially identical and do not require adjustment.
In Marquette’s 13 games, Cadougan is averaging 7.0 points on 55.3 percent shooting after halftime. Compare that to the first half, when the senior point guard is averaging 3.1 points on 34 percent shooting, and it’s apparent Cadougan has the sense to know when his team needs him to play the role of distributor, and when it’s time to take over a game and score the ball.
Cadougan already has reached double-figures in the second half three times. As a junior he reached that total five times.. for the game. He’s being asked to score more without Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, but these takeovers in the second half have been more than just a product of extra shots to go around.
It’s tough to go back and track all the shots Cadougan has taken in the second halves, but there’s no doubt he’s been more aggressive. As the numbers show, he isn’t necessarily taking all that many more shots (47 first half attempts to 56 second half attempts) but that he’s hitting at a much higher clip.
That could be a reason why Cadougan has been to the free throw line 34 times after halftime, compared with just eight times before intermission. True, a handful of those second half attempts have come from teams intentionally fouling late in games, but a more aggressive Cadougan, one looking to score, has had a positive impact on the Marquette offense down the stretch.
“As a senior point guard, I’ve seen guys like Jimmy Butler hit game-winners,” Cadougan said of his strong second half performance. “Just stay poised, get your team settled down and move on to the next play.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Cadougan’s passing numbers have taken a slight hit in lieu of his increased scoring numbers. In first halves, Cadougan has averaged 2.5 assists and 1.0 turnovers, compared to 2.1 assists and 1.7 turnovers after halftime. And while they still count regardless, it’s worth noting that 10 of his 22 second half turnovers came in two games (USC and LSU). So in 11 other games, he’s averaging less than a turnover in the second half.
Cadougan essentially was the goat in Maui — though there were plenty of reasons Marquette lost — after missing a free throw with 8 seconds left to allow Butler’s Rotnei Clarke a 35-foot buzzer-beater to beat the Golden Eagles, instead of having it send the game to overtime had Cadougan’s free throw been good.
But since that time, Cadougan has starred when the spotlight on him is brightest.
He had 11 of Marquette’s 33 second half points in a win over USC, 14 of Marquette’s 26 second half points in the Wisconsin win, and 15 of Marquette’s 39 points against LSU. It’d be a stretch to call Cadougan Marquette’s best scorer, or even second-best scorer, but when things get close and Marquette needs a basket, it’s been the senior more than anyone else.
Buzz Williams said last month sophomore Derrick Wilson had done enough to start at point guard, but there’s no question as to who Marquette wants closing.
“What Junior does really well is win games,” Autry said. “Junior had to make a shot, and he did. And that’s what Junior does: he wins games.”