Tired Golden Eagles looking forward to short break

A roster cut shallow by injuries, a travel schedule that included stops in Madison, New York City and Baton Rouge, a final exam week which nixed practice out of the itinerary and six games have been just a few of the obstacles Buzz Williams and Marquette have dealt with over the past 19 days.

Now it’s time for some rest and relaxation.

A 64-50 win over in-state rival Milwaukee on Thursday night at the Bradley Center capped off a hectic, three-week schedule for the exhausted Golden Eagles, who will travel home for three days to spend the holidays with friends and family.

The Marquette Golden Eagles have been banged around the past three weeks. Now they get to go home and relax for three days. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

“Everyone is kind of beat up and tired,” Wilson said. “Flying back late, getting up early and working out. Everyone tries to get into (trainer) Earnest (Eugene) and his student staff, try to get into the cold tub and get rolled out and do something for their bodies. Mentally, it was wearing on us as much physically.”

Wilson, who finished with eight points and four rebounds Thursday, also noted that the absence of center Chris Otule, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since Dec. 3, has taken its toll on the front court as they log extra minutes.

Both Jae Crowder and Davante Gardner have set career-highs in minutes played since Otule’s injury, and Jamil Wilson’s minutes per game have increased from 15.6 to 22.3 since in that span.

Thursday night was ugly for both teams, as the two squads combined to shoot under 33 percent and committed 28 turnovers. Williams, however, was pleased with the way his group finished out the strenuous run of games and travel.

“I thought the maturity of our team collectively was outstanding. I’m really proud of them,” Williams said. “You think about all that we’ve been through since Chris’s injury and you think about the days that we have had to practice. It’s been really tumultuous.”

The Golden Eagles’ freshmen, notably point guard Derrick Wilson (13.1 minutes per game) and shooting guard Todd Mayo (20.1 minutes), also have been called upon to take a larger role in the rotation, resulting in more minutes in a shorter time frame than they ever had at the high school level.

“You think about the accountability we have grown into in counting on Todd Mayo, who is 19 and a freshman,” Williams said. “And played 12 games in the last 60 days for a top-20 team, the entire time. And we really need [Mayo] to guard a really good player, and be a really good player on offense. That’s a lot of stuff.”

Davante Gardner could use a break after averaging 25.5 minutes per game over his last four contests. (MU Tribune photo)

Jamil Wilson also was pleased with the way the team responded to Monday night’s loss.

“I think us bouncing back mentally as hard as we could to get this win was good for us,” Wilson said. “And now everybody gets to go home for a couple days and relax with their family, get off their feet and come back ready.”

Williams said mental focus and stamina has become even more important for Marquette, now that teams are keying in on them as a premier team in the country.

“When you go from hunter to hunted, that’s a transformation that only the ones that continue to stay with the hunter mentality, those are the only ones who are able to stay through,” Williams said. “Making that last step as a coach, making that last step as a team, that’s hard, man.”

Williams has seen that fight in his team through 12 games, but said he can wait until practice Monday morning, when the team starts preparing for Vanderbilt, to see it again.

“I think that in a lot of ways our guys are really growing up,” Williams said. “But we do need three days off.”

And three well-deserved days off, they will take.

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