When Buzz Williams looked over to his bench at the 8:04 mark of the second half, in the middle of a heated, back-and-forth duel with No. 15 Georgetown, he signaled to Juan Anderson to take out Jamil Wilson.
“Coach, he’s ballin’.”
And Saturday afternoon, in Marquette’s 49-48 win over No. 15 Georgetown, Anderson’s comments were exactly right.
Wilson didn’t match Trent Lockett’s 10 rebounds and two steals; he didn’t equal Davante Gardner’s seven rebounds or score 12 points like Vander Blue. He didn’t completely break out of his early season funk, and his numbers won’t jump out on the box score, but the 6-foot-7 junior was as big a key to Marquette’s win as any player who took the court.
Wilson was back in the starting lineup for the first time in more than a month, as Marquette needed the additional height and strength inside with Georgetown starting an absurd four players standing 6-foot-8 tall.
He was quiet on the offensive end in the first half, a common theme for the 6-foot-7 redshirt junior, failing to score on two attempts. But he grabbed five big rebounds, including three on the offensive end to keep possession alive.
But it was in the second half, when Williams made halftime adjustments to move Wilson into the middle of Georgetown’s intimidating 2-3 zone, that the Marquette offense came alive.
“We wanted to get Jamil at the top of the key to get the extra swing to me or Van so we could attack, and get him in the short corner where he could knock down a shot while Davante was sealing,” Junior Cadougan said.
Wilson officially finished with zero assists, but his ability to get open in the middle and shift the Hoyas’ defense resulted in a couple “hockey assists,” and even more trips to the free throw line once the defense was out of position.
In the second half alone, Cadougan had three assists, and Marquette dished out eight helpers on nine baskets. Wilson receiving the ball and shifting the defense opened things up, and the Marquette offense did just enough to come out on top.
After shooting 26 percent in the first half, Marquette shot 52 percent in the second half and made 10 free throws.
Buzz Williams agreed with Wilson’s performance, admitting so in coach speak.
“I thought we were much better in the second half, offensively. With their length you can’t penetrate that zone off the pass or the bounce on the first side,” Williams said. “It’s gotta go to the second side and you hope you can crack it open a little on the second side. But you probably gotta get it to the third side, and I thought they symmetry of Jamil and Davante was as good as its been all season long.”
Just as big as his spot in the Marquette passing lanes, he hit two straight jumpers midway through the second half to keep Marquette’s lead at three. On the third possession, he grabbed an offensive rebound off a Todd Mayo miss that led to a Davante Gardner basket, and the next possession he hit a third straight shot which pushed the Marquette lead to four, 40-36.
While Anderson, who, himself, has played phenomenally in his sophomore season, started more to keep Wilson out of foul trouble — Wilson had 3, 4 and 3 fouls in three games in Maui — being sent to the bench was a demotion for Wilson, who was expected by many to take the reins as Marquette’s go-to player in the wake of last year’s departures.
But Saturday afternoon, that top-of-the-key position produced shades of those players he was expected to be — Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler or Lazar Hayward. He may or may not become that player, but he did fill those shoes when Marquette needed him to.
He’s not out of that funk, and Williams admitted 26 minutes a night (what he played Saturday) is about right minute-wise, but as Marquette continues to form an identity of a team needing to rely on seven core rotation players rather than star power, Wilson is finding that role on a game-to-game basis.
“Jamil is questionably our most talented player, and he’s a great guy and a great player,” Lockett said. “The sky’s the limit for him.”