For the first time in 33 games there was a new man taking the opening tip for the No 11/11 Marquette Golden Eagles (9-0) on Saturday night: Davante Gardner.
The sophomore forward started in place of redshirt junior center Chris Otule who missed his first full game with a left ACL injury that will force him out for an unannounced period of time.
In his first career start Gardner played a career-high 30 minutes and posted 14 points and seven rebounds in the process.
“I think he did great,” sophomore guard Vander Blue said of Gardner. “He knows now that with Chris is out that he’s going to be the starting “five” that we need in there. He’s known as a scorer and I could tell this week in practice that Davante’s really been focusing in on defense and just playing much harder and trying to have a better overall game.
“He can’t be that guy that we subbed in just for offense. He’s got to be that guy to try, he probably won’t be able to do what Chris did, but just give us the effort that Chris gave us because Chris made things much easier,” Blue said.
The only two players to play more minutes than Gardner were seniors forward Jae Crowder and guard Darius Johnson-Odom. The absence of redshirt sophomore forward Jamil Wilson forced coach Buzz Williams to play Gardner 30 minutes – something Williams hopes no to do in the future.
“He doesn’t need to play that much. But I was encouraged by his energy and his effort,” Williams said of Gardner. “You need to sub Davante on the last dead ball prior to a media timeout so that he can drink water and breathe up until the media timeout. Drink and breathe during the media timeout and then sub him in after the first dead ball, past the media timeout.
When Wilson is healthy Williams said Wilson, Gardner, Crowder and sophomore forward Jamail Jones will rotate between the power forward and center positions.
In Otule’s second consecutive game without being available for the full 40 minutes the Golden Eagles were outrebounded for the second consecutive game.
“Chris is big for them. That’s a big injury, in mind, just because he’s so big and wide. He carves up space. He can almost block out two guys by just being in the lane – he’s that big,” Green Bay coach Brian Wardle said. “We definitely wanted to get some post touches. We wanted to go inside when they went to a smaller lineup – we tried to get it inside right away.
“But I’m sure Marquette will figure out how to counter that. They’re so athletic and long, they’re going to be just fine and the way they shoot the ball and how fast the game is going, up and down, it shouldn’t hurt them that bad,” Wardle said.
The Washington Huskies outrebounded them 46-32 in Tuesday’s 79-77 Marquette victory. And on Saturday the Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix outrebounded Marquette 39-34.
“Now it’s like coach always tells us, ‘Everyone has to rebound.’ Maybe earlier in the year we, the guards, could have slacked a little bit because we had Chris down there to cause havoc, but now it’s a team effort,” Blue said. “We’ve been trying our best, and we know down the road it’s going to come down to rebounding so we’re preparing ourselves for it everyday in practice doing rebounding drills and just trying to get better in that area.”