Marquette had to finish the game on a lengthy run and needed a career high from Davante Gardner, but it extended it Big East home winning streak to 19 games with a 66-56 victory over DePaul Saturday.
A career-high 28 points from Gardner — only two days after coach Buzz Williams called him out for a lack of consistency — sparked the Golden Eagles to avoid what would have been a disastrous loss.
“If you’re good, say you’re good,” Williams said. “If you’re bad, tell them you’re bad. I was raised to tell the truth. What I said Thursday was the truth. I wasn’t picking on Davante.”
Gardner scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half.
The Marquette defense was stellar once again, as it held DePaul to just 38.6 percent shooting. The Blue Demons were able to hang in the game largely due to its 10 made 3-pointers, including five by Cleveland Melvin.
Marquette entered the game ranked No. 1 in the Big East and 22nd in the nation in scoring defense at 61.9 points per game. It held DePaul 19 points below its season average.
Early in the second half, the Golden Eagles cut the lead to two on a Gardner layup, but five straight from Billy Garrett made it 35-28.
Gardner eclipsed 1,000 points for his career on a layup a few moments later to make it 35-30, but five straight points from Melvin stretched the lead back to double digits.
“I have been slacking a little in practice, but the last two days I’ve been practicing good, so I think I’m back in my rhythm,” Gardner said.
A pair of threes from Jake Thomas and another Gardner layup cut the deficit to 40-38 with 11:43 left.
DePaul was held without a basket for more than six minutes until a three from Forrest Robinson made it 43-38 with 9:30 left in the game.
Marquette finally took its first lead of the game on a basket from Gardner and after Melvin hit a foul-line jumper to answer, Gardner scored again to give the Golden Eagles a 46-45 lead. Marquette would never trail again.
A Todd Mayo three with 3:57 left gave Marquette its biggest lead at 53-47 and basically sucked the air out of DePaul.
The Golden Eagles went on a 36-16 run over the game’s final 16 minutes to finally take control.
The offensive struggles were apparent in the first half again.
Marquette’s first field goal didn’t come until a Gardner basket with 13:13 left in the first half.
“We all need to be more consistent,” Williams said. “The only way you can become consistent is by working every day. I hope that this ignites some consistency.
“I believe consistency will yield field goal makes.”
At the under 12 media timeout in the first half, Marquette was 2-8 from the field and had seven turnovers. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over 17 times compared to just 15 assists.
Marquette eventually cut the lead to three on a Deonte Burton layup with 2:03 left in the half, but was answered with a Cleveland Melvin three — his fourth of the half — to make it 30-24 with 1:39 left.
A pair of Jamil Wilson free throws made it 30-26 to close out the half.
Melvin scored 14 points in the first half for the Blue Demons and finished with 22 for the game.
Buzz Williams’ frustration with the offense’s lack of production boiled over when he inserted Gardner into the starting lineup for the first time since his sophomore season. Williams also benched Derrick Wilson in favor of Jamil Wilson at point guard.
“I think that starting four seniors and Juan, somebody, if it can’t be your seniors to take ownership, who will it be,” Williams said. “You have to earn the right to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing at home and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is.”
Wilson responded with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but also had six turnovers.
The Golden Eagles have now beaten DePaul 12 straight times at home and has won 69 of the 114 contests all-time.