Otule and Fulce key in blowout

It was a big day for two of Marquette’s biggest players.

In an otherwise run-of-the-mill 96-65 blowout against a poor Longwood team on Saturday, redshirt sophomore center Chris Otule and senior forward Joe Fulce both made a splash.

Otule had a career day, going a perfect nine-of-nine from the field and grabbing five rebounds en route to scoring a game-high 19 points. It was only the second game ever in which Otule scored in double figures, with the other coming earlier this season against South Dakota on Nov. 20.

“I was just trying to do what I always do and be patient,” Otule said after the game. “They really emphasized that a lot. Whereas other nights I tend to rush a lot, (Saturday) I was patient, and it helped.”

Otule has come a long way as a player in his two years at Marquette, despite missing a majority of the last two seasons due to foot injuries. The 6-foot-11-inch center scored 12 points in nine games in 2008 and 11 in the three games he was healthy for in 2009. Through eight games this season, Otule has already more than doubled his career points total with 54.

“Yeah, I’m proud of the steps that I’ve made, but I’m not satisfied yet,” Otule said. “I just have to keep being humble and hungry. I just have to keep going.”

With the perimeter shooting as poor as it has been — 29.8 percent from three-point range for the season — Otule’s inside presence will continue to be a key part of this Marquette team.

But the center is only averaging 3.3 rebounds per game, sixth best on the team. It is an area of concern that plagues the whole Golden Eagle squad.

“Crashing the boards is a major key,” freshman guard Vander Blue said. “We were pretty upset with the way we rebounded against (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and we felt that we could do much better. So we really emphasized this week on protecting our space and not giving teams any second-chance shots.”

Saturday’s other noteworthy player could be a huge help in the rebounding department. Fulce has grabbed 17 boards in only 43 minutes of action, including six against Longwood.

Fulce was making his return to the squad after suffering a knee injury that held him out of action since Nov. 20. The 6-foot-7-inch forward put down two rim-rattling dunks, showing no fear he would re-aggravate the injury.

Fulce had 40 cubic centimeters of fluid drained from his knee last week and was given an enzyme shot to speed up the healing process.

“When you’re 6-7, and you have 40 CCs of fluid on your knee, that tells you how tough he is, and how much he wants to do right by our program,” coach Buzz Williams said. “He was 200 times better today than he was in the previous games he played this season.

“We’ve got to manage that the best we can because we need him. He helps us. He can rebound, rebound out of his area maybe better than Jae (Crowder), and he can make shots.”

A healthy Fulce and a productive Otule will be crucial as the days get colder and the schedule gets tougher.

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