Statline: 30 pts, 6 reb, 1 ast, 34 min, 13-20 fg
Quality of opponent: 3/10. If this were Jeopardy and the answer was South Florida, the question would be something like: What is turrible? That may seem a little harsh, but for a team coming off a two-win NCAA Tournament appearance, the Bulls took a giant leap backwards to finish 3-15 in the Big East , only ahead of DePaul. Coming into this game, the wheels were already falling of after a 1-6 start to conference play. They a had some talent, but not enough to overcome their deficiencies as a team.
Magnitude of game: 4/10. It’s a conference game so a 4 is pretty much the baseline. It was an opportunity to continue both the home win streak and the hot start to conference play, but in the grand scheme of things, had it not been for Vander’s offensive output, this was an entirely forgettable game.
Rundown: Much like the team’s overall performance in the first half, Vander Blue was just ok. He had nine points, but had already taken nine shots, missing all three long-distance attempts. Then the second half happened. Something clicked as Blue realized the Bulls literally couldn’t stop him. Over and over again the junior went straight at the defense, scoring lay-up after lay-up. Vander went 9-11 in the second half for 21 points, with six of those makes coming in or around the paint. Blue was fouled four times after making a bucket in the second half alone, showing just how aggressive he was and what an improved finisher he evolved into.
Key play: With Marquette only up six and USF refusing to go away quietly, Junior Cadougan rolled off a Chris Otule screen and set up a streaking Blue for an easy two-handed alley oop (seen above). The dunk not only got the crowd back into it, it lit a fuel under Blue who would go on to score 11 of Marquette’s next 13 points. That run gave the Golden Eagles more breathing room, extending a six-point lead to 13.
Wow factor: 30-point games are hard to come by. It had been two years since a Marquette player last achieved the feat with Jimmy Butler dropping three dimes on Cincinnati. 30-point games in a win are beyond rare. The last time a Marquette player had scored 30 in a victory was the first ever Big East game all the way back in 2006 when Steve Novak popped 41 against Connecticut. Think about that again. Seven NBA players have come and gone through the Al without scoring 30 in a win. Wow is right.
Historical precedent: The last two times a Marquette player scored thirty points (Jimmy Butler in 2011 and Wes Matthews in 2009) each player took at least 17 free throws with both making 15. Vander took seven and only made three, making those 30-point games completely different than his. That means you have to go all the way back to 2008 to find a similar precedent. Jerel McNeal dropped 30 on Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament without once taking or making a free throw in 34 minutes. Jerel didn’t shoot the ball quite as well as Vander, but given the difference in opponent and magnitude, that more than makes up for it.
Closing time: With a little over seven minutes left, USF had creeped back to within eight points. One minute and six points later, Marquette was back in command. Vander had completed And-1s on back-to-back possessions, completely taking the steam out of the Bulls’ comeback attempts and all but sealing the deal.