Marquette’s “new team” needs a third scoring option

Junior center Chris Otule averaged 5.0 points per game in eight games before being sidelined indefinitely with a right knee injury.

Based on Marquette’s past three offensive performances, it’s felt like Otule averaged closer to 25 points per game.

The Golden Eagles, who averaged 84 points per game through their first 10 contests, have come to a sudden halt offensively since Otule’s injury, averaging just 60 points on just under 36 percent shooting.

Head coach Buzz Williams admitted that Marquette’s offensive attack has been altered since Otule’s injury and that his “new team” has had limited practice time to implement new strategies, given a hectic travel schedule, final exams and the Christmas holiday.

Vander Blue has struggled to find his rhythm in Marquette's last three games, two of which resulted in losses. (Tribune File Photo)

While he hasn’t made any excuses for the Golden Eagles’ offensive woes, the struggles have been apparent the past three games. Marquette has tallied fewer all-important paint touches, settled for more contested jump shots and turned the ball over 40 times since Otule went down.

Since his one-game suspension for a violation of team rules (and life post-Otule injury), guard Darius Johnson-Odom has averaged just 13.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting. He has committed 12 turnovers in those three games and has been stifled on the perimeter. Teams have begun to key in on his outside shooting, staying home on Johnson-Odom when other players penetrate to the lane. He simply hasn’t looked like the same player.

After attempting 15 3-pointers against LSU and Milwaukee, Jae Crowder looked for more opportunities in the paint against Vanderbilt but was met by the tallest and most talented front court he had faced all year, making just 4-of-13 shots.

With teams keying in on Johnson-Odom and Crowder, obviously and rightfully so, Marquette needs a third scorer both to take defensive attention off the two seniors and to pick up the scoring load when one isn’t scoring.

Early it seemed as though Vander Blue could be the player. Through 10 games, the sophomore was averaging 11.6 points and seemed to have a different confidence in his game that he lacked his freshman season, even when he was scoring in non-conference play.

Since then Blue has been invisible, making just 2 of 17 shots for a total of nine points. Granted, he has one of the most complete games on the Marquette roster and has played well in other areas, but his offensive output, just like it did prior to the Big East season last year.

Given his lack of national attention on the recruiting scene and the depth in the Marquette back court, freshman Todd Mayo’s explosive start was one of the biggest surprises for the Golden Eagles.

A 22-point outburst in his first collegiate start against Northern Colorado officially put Mayo on the map, but since then he has been more conservative in attempting to create his own looks. He has just 16 points on 5-of-20 shooting in his last three outings and seems to have hit a bit of a freshman wall. Relying on a freshman to carry a scoring load through the Big East season is a tall order, as well.

Sophomore Davante Gardner, filling in for the injured Chris Otule, is another option for the Golden Eagles, but extended minutes and an increased emphasis on the defensive end have hurt him offensively. After averaging 1.8 fouls per game pre-Otule injury, Gardner has picked up three fouls in each of the last three games. While that number isn’t concerning, it limited him to five minutes Thursday night and put the Marquette offense in an early hole.

Point guard Junior Cadougan is built more as a passer and someone who can score when others create for him, and Jamil Wilson is a fourth option offensively at this point, meaning Marquette is stuck without a true third scorer. The Golden Eagles were able to hide this against weaker opponents, but it’s suddenly showing in the form of stagnant offense and low point totals.

Darius Johnson-Odom has struggled lately. The lack of a consistent third scorer remains an issue. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

Marquette’s game has become more perimeter-oriented since Otule’s absence, which in essence has swapped the 6-foot-11 post player for Jamil Wilson, but Marquette had only 15 paint touches on Thursday, which Williams said was by far the lowest since he took over. That total resulted in just 14 attempted free throws, the lowest total of the year.

For the second consecutive year, the Golden Eagles aren’t relying on the 3-point shot to score. Last year, Marquette received 20.6 percent of its scoring via the long ball (321st in the country) and this year has scored 21.5 percent (297th) on threes.

Marquette certainly can survive without the long ball, with Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Crowder inside and scoring on fast break points, but without Otule eating up space inside and drawing defenders to him, Marquette has struggled to get the ball to the paint and to the basket on drives.

Regardless of any offensive changes Marquette makes in light of Otule’s injury, a consistent third scoring threat will be needed as the Golden Eagles enter the Big East season.

Last year, Crowder acted as the third scorer to Jimmy Butler and Johnson-Odom and the year before that, Johnson-Odom complemented Lazar Hayward and Butler as a scoring punch away from the the two. This year’s team is deeper and more talented than the previous two, but until a third scorer steps up and can contribute on a nightly basis, Marquette’s offense will struggle when both Crowder and Johnson-Odom aren’t hitting shots.

Life after Otule has been rough on the Marquette offense but Williams referred back to the team simply doing what they preach in practice, something they failed to do in Thursday night’s defeat.

“Our team is what our team is and I’m OK with that. I like our team. But I like our team when we do what we practice,” Williams said. “When we don’t do that, whether (the opponent has) length or whether they’re superlative in some other attribute other than what we would call superlative, they’re gonna win. We have to do what we do, and when we do we’re good. Maybe as good as we’ve been in our four years here. But when we don’t do what we do, we’re not any good.”

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