If you ain’t first you’re last

Photo by Aaron Ledesma/ Marquette Tribune

Buzz Williams will seek his first tournament championship as Marquette’s coach this weekend as his No. 21/19 Golden Eagles (2-0) open the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands with a matchup against the Winthrop Eagles (0-2) on Friday.

Senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette’s leading scorer two games in (20.5 points per game), acknowledged the weekend experience would be a disappointment if Marquette doesn’t leave the Virgin Islands as tournament champions.

“We feel like we have a great team. We’re one of the better teams down there,” Johnson-Odom said. “With all the hard work we have been putting in, I think it should show in this tournament.”

If Marquette doesn’t come away champions, senior forward Jae Crowder said the weekend will still have significant value.

“(Winning the tournament), that’s what we have set out to do,” Crowder said. “But at the same time with us being the leaders, DJ and I, we have to realize that if it doesn’t fall in our favor then we have to use it as a learning experience for our younger guys and for us because we are going to come to another tournament – the Big East Championship tournament – and we have to win that one.”

In Williams’ first year as Marquette’s coach in 2008, the Golden Eagles fell to Dayton 89-75 in the Chicago Invitational Challenge championship.

In 2009, Marquette dropped the Old Spice Classic championship game to Florida State 57-56. And last season Marquette went 0-2 at the O’Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic with losses to Duke (82-77) and Gonzaga (66-63).

“We haven’t (won a tournament championship). No one on staff has won a championship since they’ve been here. That’s a goal set out that we can accomplish this weekend,” Crowder said.

Winthrop has yet to score over 59 points in a game this season and is averaging 53.5 points per game — well below Marquette’s 95 points per game average.

The Eagles’ most recent loss was a 69-48 affair against fellow Paradise Jam participant Virginia (2-0) on Tuesday evening.

Winthrop went 13-17 last season, and returned three of its top five scorers for this year, although it did lose its top two scorers.

In Marquette’s only matchup against Winthrop, the Eagles emerged victorious with a 71-64 victory over the Golden Eagles on Nov. 19, 2005 in the championship of the Blue & Gold Classic.

“We don’t know too much about them,” redshirt junior center Chris Otule said about the Eagles. “Going into games, we don’t know too much about teams up until about a day or two days before, and that’s because coach Buzz likes for us to not worry about other teams so much.

“He likes us to worry about what we do, and our core essentials, which is obviously defense. And if we do what we want to do on the defensive end then it doesn’t really matter who we’re facing because we can take on anyone.”

Marquette will battle Drake (2-0) or Mississippi (2-0) — whichever team matches Marquette’s result from Friday’s tournament opener — on Saturday night. For Marquette to be in the championship, it must win its first two games.

With three games in four days, regardless of the first two results, Crowder said it will be vital for multiple players to contribute.

“You have to have fresh bodies, all guys on the same page and taking the floor. This will be a good experience for us,” Crowder said.

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