Crowder, Golden Eagles cruise past Rutgers

With two tough road contests awaiting Marquette, it would have been easy for the Golden Eagles to overlook Rutgers on Wednesday night.

Not on Buzz Williams’ watch.

The Golden Eagles hit eight of their first nine shots and led by as many as 15 early in the first half and cruised to an 82-65 win over the Scarlet Knights at the Bradley Center.

“I want to win ‘this’ game,” Williams said. “And then after we win ‘this’ game, then we’ll start talking about the next game.”

Jae Crowder led Marquette with 27 points and fellow senior Darius Johnson-Odom added 21 more in the duo’s second-to-last game at the Bradley Center.

With crucial road tests – at West Virginia and Cincinnati – next week, two wins would help the Golden Eagles secure a coveted double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

Jae Crowder was sensational Wednesday night, scoring a team-high 27 points and grabbing seven rebounds. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

Williams has been proud of the way his team has responded to each task in front of them, taking things one day at a time.

“I think one of the good things about this group is that their rhythm and their route has been specific to the next game,” he said. “When you get lost in the numbers and all of the hype that’s surrounding our run, sometimes that sedates you and we’re not good enough to be sedated.”

The first order of business was a home victory over Rutgers. The Golden Eagles’ fast-paced attack on both ends gave the Scarlet Knights fits. Marquette scored 18 points on 14 Rutgers turnovers and had 18 fast break points in the first half.

A 9-2 run midway through the first half pulled the Scarlet Knights within four, but Johnson-Odom answered with a pair of baskets to extend the lead. Marquette entered halftime with a 46-35 lead. Johnson-Odom had a season-high 19 first half points on 7 of 12 shooting.

“We didn’t want to come out sluggish like we have in the past,” Crowder said. “And I think we responded well to what we wanted to do early, and I’m proud of the guys for that.”

Jerome Seagears scored 11 of Rutgers’ first 18 points, but finished with just 14 in the loss.

The Scarlet Knights switched to a 2-3 zone coming out of halftime and played improved transition defense, slowing Marquette’s offense. They took advantage, pulling within 56-50 with 13 minutes to play following a Dane Miller layup.

But for every spurt Rutgers put together, Marquette had an answer. In the second half, specifically, it was Crowder who had an answer.

The reigning Big East Player of the Week continued his impressive run of play, scoring 14 points in the second half. He picked up three fouls in the first five minutes but stayed aggressive, making seven of eight shots to help Marquette pull away.

“Of all the players we’ve coached here in our tenure his efficiency numbers are staggering, better than any player that’s played here since we’ve been here,” Williams said, of Crowder. “He’s just in a really good space emotionally, physically and mentally. Not only is he efficient, but he’s effective.”

The Scarlet Knights held the rebounding advantage 33-28 and shot 42 percent from the field, but could not counter Marquette’s pace or aggressiveness. They committed 23 turnovers in the game, which turned into 31 Marquette points.

“I thought DJO and Crowder were tremendous,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. “Their whole team was tremendous on the break. If you can’t stop somebody from putting their head down and scoring layups, you’re not going to be very successful. We certainly weren’t tonight.”

Sophomore forward Gilvydas Biruta was held to 12 points and four rebounds three days after posting 21 points and seven rebounds in a loss to Syracuse.

It was another gut-check performance for the Golden Eagles, who were without Davante Gardner for the sixth straight game. He is considered questionable for Friday night’s game at West Virginia.

With its 12th conference win, Marquette is now tied for its most conference wins since joining the Big East. With three games remaining, the Golden Eagles are likely to surpass that number before season’s end.

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