Stat line: 16 pts, 4 reb, 2 blk, 8-8 fg, 25 min
Quality of opponent: 7/10. This Notre Dame squad didn’t scare you on paper or even on the floor, but as Marquette found out just two weeks later, it definitely was no slouch. The Irish once again finished in the top half of the Big East, made the NCAA Tournament and got immediately bounced out. They had plenty of size inside and a very good guard in sophomoe Jerian Grant. The only reason they aren’t an 8 is that Jack Cooley wasn’t at 100 percent. He may not be the end-all, be-all of the team, but he takes them to another level when healthy.
Magnitude of game: 9/10. There was plenty at stake in this one. For starters, it was National Marquette Day which meant alumni groups around the country (and internationally) were gathered in bars everywhere to watch. NMD brings a lot of eyes that might not usually tune in to a regular season game and provides a nice little fundraising boost. It was also Senior Day, the last time Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett would see the floor at the Bradley Center, always an emotional experience. All of that up the ante on what was already a significant game. Marquette had a chance to extend its home win streak to 25 games and stay in the hunt for its first Big East title.
Rundown: It’s one thing when Otule dominates against some cupcakes in November, we’ve seen that script a few times. When he does so against a top-25 team with three legitimate post players in an important game in March, that just takes it to a completely different level. Chris came out hot, scoring on his first two paint touches, and never cooled off. He finished the game shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field, setting a season high in the process. Defensively, he manhandled an ill Cooley, and completely shut down penetration in the first half. Otule ended up playing a regular-season high 25 minutes, all without one turnover and only two personal fouls.
Key play: The game was barely 25 seconds in and Chris already had a great post up, a paint touch, a spin move and two points First Team All-Big East center Jack Cooley. Otule was no stranger to getting fed on the first possession of the game, but simply the way he manhandled Cooley led you to believe big things were coming. Yes, the Irish senior was severely hampered by a stomach virus, but that first play gave Otule a confidence he wouldn’t lose the rest of the afternoon.
Wow factor: There was no backboard-shattering dunk or miracle shot from Otule all game, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any plays that made you go ‘wow.’ His second to last bucket was particularly impressive. (Go to the 1:25 mark of the video above.) Having just scored on the previous possession to open the second half, Otule got great positioning on Cooley, faked like he was going right and put in a gorgeous lefty hook from just outside the paint. This was an NBA caliber move. Otule’s right hook has become much softer and accurate the past four years, but adding the left hand to his repertoire had the bench going wild.
Historical precedent: This may seem a bit of a cop-out because of its recency, but after looking through six years worth of box scores, the only game that measures up is Davante Gardner’s dismantling of Syracuse just five days prior. Gardner was also perfect from the field (7-7) and while he was much more productive from the line than Otule, he wasn’t quite the defensive force. Here were two big men taking every chance they were given and converting it into at least two points. For a school that used to be known for its guard play, Marquette has found itself with two fantastic low-post players.
Closing time: Marquette’s 16-point lead had been chipped down all the way to single digits with just over three minutes to play. Notre Dame had some momentum and had scored on its previous two possession. Enter Otule. The big man grabbed a crucial offensive rebound off a Vander Blue miss on the right side of the paint and put it back in with a beautiful short hook on the other side of the lane and got fouled in the process, which you can see in the video above. This bucket wasn’t a game-winner by any stretch of the imagination, but it stopped the flood gates from opening and helped keep Marquette’s 25-game winning streak at the Bradley Center alive.