As the final home test draws nearer and the seniors get ready to bid adieu to the Bradley Center, I felt it was time to start reflecting back on Junior Cadougan’s time at Marquette.
Junior’s road to America, and ultimately Milwaukee, is a sad tale that is often overlooked. Cadougan witnessed his 4-year-old brother shot in front of their home when he was only 15-years-old and a rising star in the Canadian basketball scene. The shooting prompted him to move to Atlanta to live with his good friend, Olu Ashaolu to continue to chase his basketball dreams, ultimately ending up and thriving at Christian Life Center Academy in Humble, Texas. (Click here for the full story from SLAM.)
It hasn’t been the easiest four years for the point guard from Toronto, as an injury to his achilles in September of his freshman campaign forced Cadougan to miss most of the season and really set back his maturation and growth on the court.
Yet, it is no revelation that Marquette has played its best basketball the past two seasons when Junior was on his game. It’s a cliche to say he was the engine that made the offense hum, but what he has provided is the lubrication to turn a somewhat stagnant style into an efficient scoring offense.
He’s had his highs and his lows, as any player does, but here are his top 5 games (plus a bonus) as a Golden Eagle:
Honorable Mention: vs Syracuse 2/25/2013
In ten years when a future version of Paint Touches goes back through the record books, this game will not stand out in any way, shape or form for Cadougan. No gaudy point or assist totals. No unbelievable plays. No game winning shots. Instead, what they will see is a very solid performance in an upset of the No. 12 team in the country.
That’s where context comes in to play. Junior came into the game in a funk, turning the ball over way too much and not being able to attack the basket as he had earlier in the year. He was shooting 50.0 percent from the free throw line and there was no flow to the offense, particularly when up against a zone.
Enter Syracuse, one of the perennial best zone defenses in the country, fresh off a loss to arch-rival Georgetown and in the Bradley Center for the final time as a member of the Big East.
Up against his kryptonite Cadougan didn’t exactly shine, but he played a career-high 38-minutes, hitting a couple big shots and all four of his free throws to finish with 12 points. More importantly, he only turned the ball over once and had four steals to go with three assists.
This was a statement game that though he may not be the best point guard in the country, this was his team and he wasn’t done at Marquette yet. The win extended a 23-game home winning streak and kept Marquette within half a game of first place in the final year of the Big East being the BEast.
When people talk about Marquette’s victory over Murray State to get to the Sweet 16 yet again, the first words out of their mouth are Jae Crowder. That’s deserved, as the Big East Player of the Year put up 17 and 13 with three steals and two blocks.
Yet, going into the game, the buzz was all on the Racers’ All-American point guard, Isaiah Canaan. How’d he end up doing? He did pour in 16 points, but it took 17 shots to get there. He did have two assists, but it came along with three turnovers. The man most responsible for stopping Canaan? Junior.
Cadougan played a career-high 37 minutes of pesky defense, bothering one of the nation’s top scorers into a woeful shooting day. Junior wasn’t a one trick pony, though. He also put in eight points, four assists and three rebounds with only one turnover on the night.
What makes this performance even more impressive is the adversity facing Cadougan at the time. He was coming off three straight poor performances, including an eight-turnover game against Louisville in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, but turned in one of the best performances of his career on one of the biggest stages.
Almost three quarters of the way into his sophomore season–his first full year– it looked like Junior’s injury had not only cost him most of his freshman year, but it had forever limited his effectiveness. The highly rated point-guard had only played 25-or-more minutes three times in 27 games and tallied six or more assists twice. He was a poor shooter from any distance and prone to dumb turnovers.
And then Providence came to town.
Junior had his coming out party of sorts against the Friars, notching his first double-digit points game of his career on the same day he notched his first double-digit assists game. He played a career-high (at the time) 30 minutes and came within four rebounds of a triple-double. Did I mention the six rebounds he grabbed were also the most he had ever hauled in?
It was as complete a game as he has ever played and also helped Marquette notch another much-needed victory after back-to-back losses had placed the Golden Eagles squarely on the bubble.
Having just beaten Providence in its first game of the Big East Tournament, Marquette was still sitting on the fence for an NCAA Tourney invitation and needed one more resume builder to secure its ticket.
Down nine with just under 16 minutes to go and with the season hanging in the balance, Cadougan put on his cape and went to work. The sophomore scored seven unanswered points in 1:26, drawing the Golden Eagles within two. That scoring outburst was more than he had scored in 28 full games up to that point and kept Marquette within striking distance.
Cadougan also helped ice the game down the stretch, hitting two clutch free throws with 25 seconds left, pushing the lead to five points. What made it even more impressive was Junior had struggled at the line the whole season, but he stepped up when his team needed him most.
Junior would finish with a career-high 15 points in a 67-61 victory over the Mountaineers, with 13 of those points coming in the second half. Had Cadougan not burst out in the second half, Marquette may have missed the NCAA tournament, thwarting a Sweet 16 run and denying Jimmy Butler a chance to pawn Tu Holloway on a national stage.
2. vs Uconn 1/1/2013
I have to come clean, I didn’t see this game live. My plane from Mexico had been delayed two hours so I was on I-94 listening to Homer and Mac on the call from the second half on. Following a three-minute scoring drought from both teams, Ryan Boatright hit a miraculous fade-away which Homer initially thought was a three. It wasn’t, and that made it only a one-possession game with seconds remaining.
You know what’s next.
That three may well be the most important shot of the season (with Jake Thomas’ four point play a close second) as it helped Marquette avoid a home loss to start Big East play. We will know exactly how big the shot turned out to be in about a week, should Marquette run the table and grab a share of the conference title.
No matter what, Junior’s shot wasn’t just a fluke. He matched a career-high in points with 18 and added five assists with only one turnover. It was a fantastic all-around performance from the senior, culminating with a shot he will never forget.
He had only played against Wisconsin once in is career. He had as many turnovers as he did points in the previous two games combined (2). He had a motivated Derrick Wilson cutting into his playing time. In fact, at halftime against the Badgers, Wilson and Cadougan each had played 10 minutes and had three assists.
Junior was up against it and responded with the half of his life.
With the lead cut to three points and Wisconsin gaining momentum, Cadougan scored seven points in a little under two minutes, attacking the basket at will. He ended up scored 14 of his career-high 18 points in the second half, including 13 in the final 10 minutes.
The impressive part is not just the point totals, which definitely are impressive, but the manner in which he imposed his will on the game in a manner not seen in over a year and a half. Wisconsin’s defense is known for forcing bad shots and thwarting penetration, yet Cadougan seemed to slip past the defense at will.
He saved his best for last, in one of the most meaningful games of the year, carrying Marquette to the finish line and finally getting to experience a win over the Badgers. Without a doubt, Junior’s most impressive performance in the blue and gold.