Vander Blue had been quiet the last three games, and Buzz Williams deflected criticism from his junior shooting guard by saying the flow of the game didn’t call for the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer to put up points.
Whether that was the case, Blue was called upon Tuesday night in New Jersey and came up in the clutch, scoring 22 points to help Marquette pick up a come-from-behind win, 60-54, over Rutgers and remain in the hunt for a Big East title.
And while Blue had a solid night scoring the ball, the stretch run began with a defensive play that sparked the Golden Eagles’ to avoid another disappointing road loss.
With just over four minutes to play and Marquette trailing by three, 52-49, Blue picked up Rutgers point guard Jerome Seagears full-court following a Trent Lockett turnover. Blue stuck close to Seagears and, after Blue fell to the floor after a non-call push-off, Seagears was called for a 10-second violation.
Following that play, Blue hit a 3-pointer to tie the game for the first time since the opening tip, and Marquette proceeded to finish the game on an 11-2 run.
Within that run, Blue also grabbed a Seagears turnover and connected on two free throws with 14 seconds left to push Marquette’s lead to four, 58-54.
It was a turnaround performance for Blue, who had been limited to 19 combined points his last three games. He shot 7-of-22 (32 percent) in those games, including a 2-of-8 performance in a road loss last week to Villanova.
Like Williams said, the other two games–home wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse–didn’t neccessarily need Blue’s scoring. But with Marquette’s collective backs against the wall, Blue didn’t falter this time around.
He finished 8-of-16, knocked down all five free throw attempts and produced his highest scoring output since his 30-point effort in a win over South Florida.
It was a performance that, on the heels of the Big East and NCAA Tournament, was needed to prove the Golden Eagles still have their go-to guy in the clutch.
Jamil Wilson, who also connected on an important 3-pointer late to give Marquette a lead it wouldn’t reliniquish, continues to play well, and teams unfamiliar with Davante Gardner will have a tough time adjusting. But Blue needs to be the one player each tournament team needs to fight through inevitable rough stretches over the course of a potential deep run.
It was there earlier in the season and, while his numbers have been mostly consistent, he lacked that edge late in games, as we documented here.
Against Villanova, Blue was just 1-of-3 in that second half, when the Marquette offense desperately needed a jolt. They lost that game, 60-56.
Tonight Blue was 4-of-8 and scored 16 points in the second half. Opponent and venue didn’t reek of NCAA Tournament, but the pressure Marquette had on itself not to suffer a letdown after being ranked in the top-15 for the first time all year was. Blue picked up the slack and then some, and it led to a Marquette win.