Gardner willed Marquette to a win against DePaul Saturday with 21 of his career-high 28 points in the second half, including 10 straight to turn a 40-36 deficit into a 46-45 lead with 7:03 left.
His last basket during that stretch gave the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game.
He dominated the second half. It didn’t matter who was guarding him. Then look at his stat line in the loss at Creighton on Tuesday: four points, two rebounds in 16 minutes.
“Maybe it’s because it’s how I raise our sons. If you’re good, say you’re good. And if you’re bad, tell them they’re bad. Not everyone gets a trophy,” Williams said. “And I think that’s part of what’s wrong. I guess that’s my personal belief. That’s just how I was raised. Tell the truth.”
Williams said Thursday that he doesn’t believe Gardner works hard enough in practice to earn the right to start. Yet he inserted the senior into the starting lineup against the Blue Demons.
“I did give him the start even though he hadn’t earned it and I took it away from Derrick (Wilson), even though Derrick had earned it. And it told Derrick that, I told Davante that, I told our team that,” Williams said.
Gardner admitted he had been “out of it” since coming back from Christmas break, but felt like he was in a better rhythm the last few days.
“I have been slacking a little bit in practice, but the last two days, I’ve been practicing well, so I think I’m back in my rhythm,” he said.
He didn’t give any reason for feeling out of it; just saying it was a mental thing.
There’s no question Marquette needs Gardner to play more like he did against DePaul than he did against Creighton if it wants any chance of salvaging what has been a disappointing season.
Through 15 games, Gardner is averaging 13.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He scored 25 points in the opening game against Southern and took just seven field goals. He then scored just five points in an ugly win over New Hampshire.
He responded from that poor performance by tallying 56 points in the next three games, including 20 in a win against George Washington, before scoring six against San Diego State.
After another solid stretch against Wisconsin, IUPUI and Ball State, he scored eight points against New Mexico. Before his career night against DePaul, Gardner was averaging just more than seven points in his last three games.
That isn’t going to cut it. But Williams acknowledged it’s more than just Gardner who needs to be consistent.
“We need all of our guys to be consistent. I don’t think we can put it all on Davante,” Williams said. “The only way you can become consistent is by working every day. True confidence only comes from your work. I hope this ignites some consistency. More than it ignites field goal makes, I hope that it ignites consistency because I believe that consistency will yield field goal makes.”
It seems like hard work is in Gardner’s bloodlines. Williams said the big man’s parents are “the absolute best people ever.
“I talk to Davante’s mom every 48 hours and when I don’t she calls and leaves a full-fledged until the message goes off,” Williams said. “All she’s saying is ‘Coach, you do whatever you want. You make him be as good as he can be as a man.’”
If only Gardner would work as hard as Chris Otule.
Williams said Otule is the “hardest working player in our program.”
He doesn’t play Otule in the final 10 minutes of the game “because of Davante’s success.
“But if you’re comparing how hard they work, there’s no comparison. Davante is better with the ball in his hands than Chris,” Williams said. “But then you look at Creighton. Chris has 10 (points) and five (rebounds) in 20 minutes. And Davante has two baskets. I just think it’s life. You have to figure it out. If you’re not a worker bee, it’s hard to earn respect.”