Crowder, Gardner dominate inside game against Cougars

For the past two days, Marquette heard plenty of chatter regarding Brigham Young’s interior size, height advantage at each position and two leading scorers, Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies, who stood 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9, respectively.

Thursday afternoon, the Golden Eagles quit listening and instead let their play do the talking.

The result was a dominating performance inside that resulted in a 88-68 victory over the Cougars in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Entering Thursday’s contest, Brigham Young averaged 38.1 rebounds, 23rd best in the country, and allowed only 7.8 offensive rebounds per game. Behind one of the tallest starting lineups in the country, a 6-foot-5 average, the Cougars were expected to crash the glass and not allow any second chance points to the undersized and undermanned Marquette front court.

Instead, Jae Crowder’s continued dominance in the paint, and the return of Davante Gardner to his old self resulted in a 48-34 rebounding advantage and 36 points in the paint for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette took advantage inside from the get go. The Golden Eagles scored 20 paint points in the first half, and made six 3-pointers, two numbers that coach Buzz Williams said started with paint touches inside.

Jae Crowder was his usual self, scoring 25 points and grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“32 of our first 38 possessions today were in the paint,” Williams said. “We’re an above-average team when the ball goes inside-out. We make those shots.”

Williams may have been humble calling his team “above average,” but he did say Marquette shoots 33 percent worse on field goal attempts when the possession does not have a paint touch than when it does.

While Marquette moved the ball inside and again back out, Crowder was busy turning in his most impressive rebounding performance in a Marquette uniform. He grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds, including six on the offensive end that resulted in 10 of Marquette’s 18 second chance points. Marquette had 16 offensive rebounds as a team.

He spread himself out on offense, working the middle of BYU’s 2-3 zone, gaining position on the block and spotting up from beyond the arc to keep his defender, usually Hartsock, constantly on the move.

BYU coach Dave Rose praised Crowder after the game, noting his versatility that allowed him to connect on three 3-pointers to go with his inside presence.

“The toughest thing is, when you crowd him on the perimeter, he can get right past you,” Rose said. “And then when they don’t play through him, he’s so aggressive on the weak side of the basket, trying to rebound the ball, that the best way you probably could play him is not let him touch the ball.”

For as good as Crowder was offensively, he was just as good on the other end. He picked up four steals that led to seven of Marquette’s 24 points off turnovers, and had a game-high 10 defensive rebounds.

Matched up on Hartsock for much of the game, Crowder held the West Coast Conference’s leading scorer to 15 points and zero rebounds. It was the first time since February of Hartsock’s freshman year, a span of 116 games, he did not record a single rebound.

“He’s just one of those special players that coaches always, when they find him, they just want to keep them as long as they can,” Hartsock said. “He’s a great player and great competitor.”

The last time Crowder took the court, he picked up three first half fouls in what he called a disappointing performance against the eventual champion Louisville Cardinals in the Big East Tournament.

Jamil Wilson and the Marquette front court suffocated the usually dominant BYU bigs. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

There were concerns that the Marquette front court could again get into foul trouble against the taller Cougars, but Crowder picked up only three fouls in 35 minutes, and was never limited by the timing of any of the fouls.

Instead, Marquette was the more aggressive team and it led to foul trouble on the BYU side of the ball.

Hartsock, Davies and 6-foot-10 freshman reserve center Nate Austin combined to play 35 minutes and committed seven fouls in the first half. Meanwhile, Crowder, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson played 37 minutes and committed six fouls.

Wilson picked up two fouls in the first six minutes of the game, forcing Williams to use Gardner off the bench. Without knowing how many minutes Gardner could give on an 80 percent healthy knee, Gardner responded with 12 points and five rebounds in 12 first half minutes.

Gardner moved as well as he had since he returned from a knee injury two weeks ago, and was active in drawing contact, getting to the free throw line seven times.

“He’s an elite scoring threat. He gets position down low, where it’s just him and his man,” Vander Blue said. “He has proven over and over that he can do it. He’s going to help our team in a big way.”

Marquette moved its focus to defense in the second half, and Wilson returned with his two fouls and contributed four points, four rebounds and two blocks. He committed just one foul in the second half, and played 12 minutes.

Marquette will not be considered a tall team, but if today was any indication, the Golden Eagles certainly have the forwards and big men to impact their offense and positively contribute inside.

While Marquette can thrive on 3-pointers and fast break opportunities, Williams said his team is best when doing the little things like playing well in the paint.

“I’m not a home run coach. I didn’t hire home run assistant coaches,” Williams said. “We just want to be a good pitch team, and for the most part we were able to throw good pitches today.”

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