By MIKE NELSON
One game after a stray bat flew away with the headlines, Marquette guard Vander Blue made sure it was a Golden Eagle who soared off with the attention Monday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Blue finished with a career high 30 points in No. 25 Marquette’s 63-50 victory over the South Florida Bulls.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Blue said. “They’re a really good defensive team. They’re really big. You can’t really get into the lane like you want to, so I wanted to make sure I used my pull-up (jumper) and just take advantage of when I had a step on them (to) make sure I got there and finished.”
Marquette needed Blue, its leading scorer, to come up big with the offense in a funk. He made 13 of 20 field goals in 34 minutes and scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half.
Trent Lockett was the only other Golden Eagle to reach double figures (10), and he didn’t reach that plateau until there was just 1 minute, 49 seconds left to play.
Blue was the only Golden Eagle to make more than three field goals.
Davante Gardner, the team’s No. 2 scorer, was ejected from the game after he was called for a flagrant 2 technical foul with 13:36 left in the second half. Gardner earned the call after throwing an elbow that hit South Florida’s Zach LeDay as the two were battling for a rebound.
Gardner finished with 4 points, 2 blocks and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes.
“I was actually right there when it happened, but I figured it wasn’t anything intentional,” Blue said. “I thought it would just maybe be a flagrant 1, if that. I thought he (LeDay) flopped, but I guess it was a flagrant 2.”
Marquette coach Buzz Williams wasn’t sure if Gardner would be suspended for the incident and said more would be known Tuesday morning.
While Marquette (15-4, 6-1 Big East) struggled to generate offense beyond Blue, South Florida’s struggles were more intense.
The Bulls (10-10, 1-7 Big East) shot just 27.3 percent (15 of 55) from the field and committed 13 turnovers. They entered the game averaging 10.3 turnovers per game and shooting 41.2 percent from the field.
Marquette’s defense certainly deserves some credit for South Florida’s sluggish performance, as it forced the Bulls into 13 turnovers and blocked a season high eight shots. Chris Otule recorded four of those, which tied a career best, and scored the game’s first four points with two dunks.
“I thought it was the best game he’s ever played,” Williams said of Otule’s performance. “I thought he changed shots. I thought he was in the mix. I think that it helped that he got two dunks. I don’t think that’s ever happened, never happened prior to the first media timeout.”
Marquette’s first five baskets all came within the paint, three dunks and two layups. Six of those points were of the fast-break variety.
The Golden Eagles held a 28-24 advantage at halftime, after having found themselves down by as many as four and up by as many as seven in the opening half.
“We had to make sure we stuck to the basics and didn’t get overwhelmed and didn’t try to play their type of game and make sure we played our type of game,” Blue said. “Luckily, we got the win.”
The Golden Eagles opened the second half with a 10-0 run, highlighted by an alley-oop dunk by Blue. The run opened up a 38-24 lead.
South Florida opened the second half going nearly seven minutes without a field goal, which severely limited the Bulls’ chances of a comeback. They whittled Marquette’s lead down to eight on four different occasions in the second half, the final time coming with 4:46 left.
With the win, Marquette maintained its place atop the Big East with Syracuse. Marquette won’t face the Orange until Feb. 25, when the two play in Milwaukee.
“If we win at home, that’s what you’re supposed to do so it’s zero. If you lose at home you’re minus one. You’re supposed to lose on the road. If you win on the road, that’s plus one. So right now we’re plus one. That’s not good enough to win the league,” Williams said. “That’s not good enough to go to the NCAA Tournament. We still have a long way to go, but I am thankful to be where we are.”
By TONY CARTAGENA
Special to ESPNWisconsin.com
MADISON -- It looks like the Big Ten Conference will be getting even bigger. Monday morning, the University of Maryland Board of Regnets unanimously voted to move the school out of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) into the Big Ten.
Maryland’s Student Government Association released a letter supporting the Regents decision:
“We believe it would be in the best interests of the undergraduate student body for the University of Maryland, College Park to become a member of the Big Ten,” the letter stated. “Although we mourn the traditions that would inevitably be lost, joining the Big Ten would fundamentally transform our
university for the better.”
The Terrapins would become the 13th member of the Big Ten Conference and the first team added since Nebraska joined in 2011.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said he was excited about the expansion. “Every time the commissioner and athletic directors have come up with a plan, its been very positive so I assume this will be as well," he said.
Currently the Maryland football program is 4-7 overall and holds a 2-5 record in ACC conference play. The men’s basketball team is off to a 2-1 start.
Upon leaving the ACC, Maryland will have to pay a $50 million exit fee.
Rumors have been swirling that the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers will be the 14th team to join the Big Ten. An official announcement is expected Tuesday.
Sources have said that Maryland and Rutgers would both join the Leaders Division and Illinois would shift to the Legends, but no official plans have been announced.
“Probably not a decision that they’re going to poll the coaches on,” Bielema added. “Pretty sure that’s going to be the case.”
By ZACK GARHART
Special to ESPN Wisconsin
The Lions of Southeastern Louisiana had never traveled to the BMO Harris Bradley Center before. In fact, Tuesday night was their first ever showdown against the Golden Eagles of Marquette. Entering the contest, Marquette held a 10-1 record over opponents in the Southland Conference and came into the game looking to build on their win on Sunday over Colgate.
A 64-53 showing against Southeastern Louisiana may keep Marquette perfect in the early stages of the season, but neither coach nor players were overly impressed with the win.
“We have to have more discipline with what we do and what we practice,” head coach Buzz Williams said.
Marquette shot just 42.3 percent on 52 attempts and turnovers contributed immensely to the close margin of victory. Missed shots and poor ball handling slowed the Marquette offense early and allowed Southeastern Louisiana to stay within range until the closing few minutes of the game.
“33 percent of those shots were turnovers and the other 67 percent we just didn’t make a shot,” Williams said. The Lions weren’t much better, averaging 35.2 percent on their shots throughout the game
Yet, the Lions came out aggressive, taking 11 three pointers in the first half, converting on four of the attempts as solid defense by Marquette forced difficult shots on the perimeter. As the final minute of the first half approached, Southeastern Louisiana capitalized on Golden Eagles’ turnovers and strung together a five point run to put the game within reach at 32-29.
Though the team may have anticipated a greater margin of victory over Southeastern, Chris Otule said that the team was expecting the Lions to play up tempo basketball.
“I don’t think it caught us off guard because we knew what kind of team they were, they like to get out fast,” Otule said. “We just have to do a better job of getting stops.”
Similarly to the defense, Marquette saw less offensive contribution from its stars. The team was unable to find production from Jamil Wilson in the first half as the junior struggled to find his groove offensively, recording 0 points on four attempts.
Despite the slow start, Wilson finished with four points and five assists. Williams said Wilson will be a player the team will count on to be good, but the coach also indicated that shared roles among players will ultimately define the team.
“I think there will be a grouping of guys that are going to score between this amount of points and that amount of points, but it will change per night,” Williams said. “I think that it’s probably how it will play out.”
If Tuesday night was any indication, Williams has already seen how a combination of players can step into different roles as the team finds a groove offensively. Forward Davante Gardner put up 18 points, all of which came from inside the paint on physical shots and Otule posted 10 points.
Otule and Gardner both carry solid frames, at 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-8 respectively. Otule said that in practice the two are constantly competing and the upside was seen on the scoreboard for Marquette.
“Davante did a good job creating angles for himself and scoring inside the paint,” Otule said.
Gardner finished 8-14 and came up big late in the second period with four points to disrupt the Lions’ second double digit run of the game. His late game heroics helped Marquette extend their 52-50 lead and go on a run of their own to end the game by a margin of 11 points.
By ZACK GARHART
Special to ESPN Wisconsin
St. Louis struck first, but Green Bay scored 14 points in the final 4 minutes of the game to pull away with their second consecutive victory.
The Rams dominated both the line of scrimmage and time of possession in the first half by holding onto the ball for 18 minutes, 46 seconds in an effort to slow down the Packers’ fast tempo offense. At the end, the result was all field goals.
Aaron Rodgers was under duress a number of times early, courtesy of Robert Quinn, and the offensive line struggled to keep protection long enough for him to find receivers down field.
All three of St. Louis’ sacks came in the first quarter and similarly the majority of Rodgers passes were complete on short passes due to the pressure. It also seemed in the first half that on defense the Packers were playing far off the line of scrimmage which allowed St. Louis to throw quick, short passes amid an array of punishing runs by Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson.
And then the first half ended. Adjustments were made and the Packers came out firing. St. Louis continued to bring pressure, often five and six rushers at a time, but the offensive line held up long enough for Rodgers to find rhythm.
While setting the tone for the rest of the game on that initial drive in the second half, Rodgers avoided a costly turnover in Green Bay territory by keeping what would have been a fumbled pitch to running back Alex Green. Following the botched play, Rodgers found Nelson on a short route for a first down and continued to take advantage of the space afforded by Rams cornerbacks. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins have asserted themselves as physical defenders but their presence was not felt as Rodgers exposed the cushion by finding Jordy Nelson, James Jones and finally Randall Cobb for a touchdown.
Turnovers and time of possession also proved to be the difference in second half adjustments. Green Bay won each battle by controlling the ball for 21 minutes and 44 seconds in the second half and recording a Casey Hayward interception midway through the third quarter. The interception not only vaulted Hayward into a tie for first place among the league’s interception leaders but lead to a ten play drive resulting in three points for Green Bay.
Conversely, Green Bay showed that one of their weaknesses still resides in the middle of the field on defense. Early in the fourth quarter, Rams receiver Chris Givens took a tipped pass down the middle of the field for 56 yards and the woes continued as Richardson and Jackson combined for significant yards and eventually a touchdown to keep the game within a touchdown. Injuries have kept Green Bay from keeping a consistent inside linebacker but the troubles have continued on a game to game basis and must be figured out in the coming weeks.
On the upside, St. Louis is a tough defense and the performance was another indication that the explosive plays on offense are resurgent for Green Bay. With nine touchdowns and no interceptions in the previous two games, Rodgers also looks back on track to retain possession of an MVP title. Personal achievements aside, the Packers continue to stay in the mix of playoff contenders in a tough NFC.
By ZACK GARHART
Special to ESPNWisconsin.com
Things to watch for as the Packers prepare to face St. Louis:
Green Bay is back. At least, that’s what the general consensus is around the league after a dominating performance last Sunday against the Houston Texans. The win was important for momentum purposes but it was also significant as it capped off a tough three game stretch (Saints, Colts, Texans) in the Packers schedule in a surprising fashion. Nothing taken away from the Rams, Jaguars and Cardinals, but the next three games pose arguably the softest patch in the Packers sixteen game schedule as the trio musters a mere 8-9 record. Both the Jaguars and Cardinals are in a tailspin, losing their last two, and while the Rams are coming off a loss to an unpredictable Miami Dolphins team, Green Bay is not to take St. Louis lightly.
A relatively quiet team on paper, the Rams play hard-nose defense and operate a balanced offense tailored around the success of their run game. While the only player to record a rushing touchdown this season is their quarterback Sam Bradford, St. Louis is a run first team. So far this season they have run the ball 56% of the time on first down and 75% of their rushing attempts come during the first 20 pass attempts of the game. Establishing similar consistency will surely be a component of the Rams game plan this week and Green Bay needs to win the battle up front. Facing a work horse, and healthy, back in Steven Jackson is nothing new to the Packers as the front seven seemingly shut down Texans stud running back Arian Foster. Green Bay has recently showed that they are capable of putting teams into long conversions for second and third down which helped their defense get off the field quickly. After watching tape from last week, the Rams will likely look to play keep away from Aaron Rodgers so Dom Capers will have to use a variety of packages to confuse Bradford and try to force him into turning the ball over.
In addition to the scheme to stop a balanced St. Louis offense, Green Bay will need to keep their eyes on Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. As they say, good things come in small packages. At 5’10 and 188 pounds, Finnegan is undoubtly the stud of the defense and has established himself as a ‘do it all’ player for this emerging squad by recording 41 tackles, a sack and three interceptions. Though Aaron Rodgers doesn’t shy away from competition, hence exploiting Texans Jonathan Joseph, he will need to be aware of #31 at all times as the Rams will likely match Finnegan against Jordy Nelson. Finnegan will look to take Nelson out of the game so Rodgers will need to use his other weapons at wide receiver. In finding other targets, Rodgers will need to also watch out for rookie cornerback, Janoris Jenkins, opposite of Finnegan. Jenkins is tied with Finnegan for first on the team with seven pass deflections to accompany his 28 tackles and so far has improved this unit with his physicality. Overall, the Rams defense ranks in the top ten, just behind Green Bay, with nine turnovers and they will come out aggressive in hopes of keeping the Packers offense off the field.
By ZACK GARHART
Special to ESPNWisconsin.com
Here are four observations on the Big Ten season:
1. Wisconsin is getting hot at the right time of the season
The first three weeks were rather shaky for the Badgers. A shocking loss to an underrated Oregon State squad came sandwiched between two wins, of a combined seven points, against Utah State and Northern Iowa. Though Wisconsin came away shorthanded from a competitive game against Nebraska, the Badgers have since reeled off impressive back-to-back Big Ten wins and look to be on the rise. Not only have they taken control of their own destiny in the Leaders division, but they have done so in impressive fashion. Rallying at home against an underperforming Illinois team was the start but a win at Purdue gave Badger fans reason to believe that they deserve to play for a conference title. On paper, Purdue looks like a team that will struggle to reach post season but this is the same Boilermaker team that traveled to South Bend with an upset on their minds. Had it not been for fourth quarter heroics by Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, Purdue would have done so. In short, Purdue is not a team to scoff at. In wins against the Boilermakers and Illinois, Badger running back Montee Ball rumbled for 363 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. They will need him as Wisconsin hosts back to back games against a resurgent Minnesota program and a vengeful Michigan State team. However, it will be a visiting Buckeyes team, on November 17, which will provide the biggest obstacle for the road to Indianapolis. In order to keep the road aligned, the Badgers defense needs to contain quarterback Braxton Miller far better than they did against Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. A win against Ohio State would all but seal Wisconsin's fate in the Big Ten Championship.
2. Either way, the Pac-12 will be favored in the Rose Bowl
With the way that Big Ten teams have fared against top 25 teams, it is hard to make a case for any team capable of contending with the powerful Pac-12 for a Rose Bowl trophy. In addition to sanctions removing Penn State and Ohio State from post season, a combined 1-11 record against top 25 teams mars a traditionally prideful conference. While the Pac-12 is not much better with an overall record of 2-14 against top 25 teams, their conference is greater represented in the BCS rankings. Four Pac-12 teams are BCS ranked while no teams from the Big Ten earned a spot. Then again, rankings don't win games. Points do. The Pac-12 showcases two of the most prolific offenses in the country in USC and Oregon and no matter how things shake out, one of the two teams will play in the Rose Bowl. With five weeks remaining of regular season play, the Big Ten has to make long strides in order to make the 'Grandaddy of them all' competitive. Fans do not want to see the 2013 Rose Bowl resemble the 2011 Fiesta Bowl in which an explosive Oklahoma team blew out a mismatched Big East champion, Connecticut.
3. Michigan State will not have anything to say about it
Week one, the Spartans looked like a speeding force heading towards an immovable object. With the speeding force being running back Le'Veon Bell and the immovable object being the Big Ten title, such physics laws have been rewritten. Six weeks later, all talk of a potential national title in East Lansing have dissipated along with hopes of reaching the Big Ten Championship for a second consecutive year. The play of new quarterback Andrew Maxwell was a concern in the offseason but the defense was expected to stabilize a regrouping offensive unit to remain formidable. After Michigan State rallied from 13 points down to defeat Indiana, not even Isaac Newton could have predicted that the next weekend a Spartan defense would surrender 16 fourth quarter/overtime points to a one dimensional Iowa team in a loss that set Michigan State back two games in conference play. This Saturday's visit to the Big House will make or break the Spartans season as they face a tough stretch of games following the showdown with rival Michigan. Even with a win over Michigan, the Spartans have a lot of ground to cover in a tough Legends division and would need a miracle to compete for a Big Ten title.
4. But Michigan will
Arguably the Big Ten's most electric team, Michigan, is still absent in the first BCS rankings. Then again, so is every team in the Big Ten. In their defense, the Wolverines did not shy away from top flight competition as they took the road less traveled by beefing their non-conference schedule with games against Alabama and Notre Dame. While both losses stripped Michigan's chances of a national title, the Wolverines still have much hope for a second consecutive BCS birth. The offense thrives on the arm and legs of quarterback Denard Robinson (1,905 yards and 15 total touchdowns) and their defense has made big strides since the embarrassing loss to Alabama. In the previous four games, despite a loss to Notre Dame, the Wolverines have outscored opponents 158-39. That may seem like a lot but scoring is what any Big Ten team will have to do in order to keep the Rose Bowl competitive and Michigan gives the conference the best chance to keep the fireworks going in Pasadena come January.