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Has Todd Mayo turned the corner?

Todd Mayo dropped in 20 points, falling just two shy of his career high in Friday's win over Southern. (USA Today)

Todd Mayo dropped in 20 points, falling just two shy of his career high in Friday’s win over Southern. (USA Today)

One game down, 30 regular season games to go. With Todd Mayo’s excellent performance Friday night, it begs the question: Has the oft-maligned, yet uber-talented junior turned the corner and become the consistent player everybody knows he can be?

With big brother O.J. in attendance against Southern, Todd poured in 20 points, including a pair of 3-pointers and went to the free throw line 11 times. He also ripped down five rebounds and had a pair of steals in 23 minutes while coming off the bench. He showed no ill effects of the knee surgery in July.

But we’ve seen this movie before.

After being suspended for the first 10 games last year, Mayo wasn’t himself and scored in double digits just four times. His total points in three NCAA Tournament games (he didn’t play against Miami) last year: Zero. His average dipped from 7.9 points per game his freshman year to 5.3 in 2012-‘13.

The year before, he scored a career-high 22 against Northern Colorado and racked up 16 points at Georgetown. However, he scored just 17 points in his final five Big East games that year.

One game isn’t going to change the perception that he is inconsistent.

So why is this a different Todd Mayo?

“He made a couple of really good defensive plays tonight,” coach Buzz Williams said. “We don’t necessarily need him to make those, we just need him to be sound in what we’re doing as a team.”

So Williams was more impressed by Mayo’s play on the defensive end than what he did on the offensive side? Not necessarily.

“Todd has always had a knack to score the ball. In our tenure here, when you think about Darius Johnson-Odom, Davante Gardner, Todd Mayo, regardless of their age, regardless of their locale, those are guys that they find a way to score. Todd can do that,” he said.

With officials emphasizing the offense in trying to open up the pace of play, a group of five players who can play aggressive defense without fouling will be the key to success this year.

Marquette isn’t going to average 63 points per game this year like it did Friday. It will shoot better than 36 percent. But if it allows 56 points and 35 percent shooting to its opponents, it will be in good shape to replicate the success of the past few seasons.

If not, it could be a long year.

Williams and Marquette need Mayo to be consistent, maybe more so than any other player on the roster. When he plays well, the team has another offensive weapon in its arsenal. When he struggles, the team will have to find another scorer to go along with Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner.

A consistent Mayo on the perimeter will open up looks for Gardner and Chris Otule in the post. Gardner showed tonight that he can dominate a solid post player in Javan Mitchell. He has proven that throughout his three years at Marquette.

He and Mayo combined for 45 of the team’s 63 points Friday, but Williams spoke at length about both players’ continued improvement on the defensive end.

“Todd’s minutes in his first two years here are similar to Davante’s minutes in his first two and a half years here,” Williams said. “They’re predicated on his ability to be an asset, not a liability defensively. I’ve told him that since September.

“To his credit, he’s worked really hard at doing that. So has Davante for that matter. In how we play defensively, particularly as the rules have changed, if you’re just trying to play ‘huggy, huggy,’ one-on-one (defense), you’re going to lose. The team concept defensively becomes more heightened probably than ever before.“

It will be interesting to see how Mayo responds to arguably his best performance since 2011. In his next game at LSU, he scored two points in 17 minutes and was 0-for-5 from the field. He followed that up with a four-point performance in 27 minutes against Milwaukee.

Everybody knows the talent is there. It’s whether or not these performances can turn into a consistent 10-to-12 point-per-game scorer to take some of the scoring load off of Gardner and Wilson.

For what it’s worth, Mayo looked like he belonged on the court Friday night. More than that, he looked like he wanted to be there.

As has been the case throughout his two-plus year career here, it’s what he does next that will ultimately determine whether or not he’s become the mature, hard-working player he is capable of being.

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