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Marquette Men’s Basketball: Crowder and Johnson-Odom become an extension of Buzz

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Jae Crowder plays defense during the first half of Tuesday's game. Photo by Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Coach Buzz Williams’ No. 11/11 Marquette Golden Eagles (8-0) happens to have two players for whom the other members of the team want to perform well: seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder.

“I wish you guys could see them in practice,” freshman guard Todd Mayo said of Crowder and Johnson-Odom. “They just want everything to be perfect, and that’s just how Buzz is. You can tell they’ve been here for a while. If you make a mistake in practice it feels like the end of the world, but you just got to keep getting better and … let them guys lead.”

This is William’s second consecutive season having at least one player with multiple years of experience on his squad — Johnson-Odom and junior center Chris Otule fitting the bill — and he acknowledged how much easier it makes his job.

“I think just that, in and of itself, probably trends towards the younger guys picking up what my expectation levels are quicker because D.J. (Johnson-Odom) has been through it literally from where those guys were at,” Williams said.

The leadership of the two seniors has been evident in Marquette’s last two games, as both have been decided by seven points or less — a change from five of Marquette’s first six games where the Golden Eagles won by 20-plus points.

In Tuesday’s 79-77 victory over the Washington Huskies, it was Crowder who hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds left, and Johnson-Odom was the game’s leading scorer with 23 points.

“We don’t win that game without the character of our group, and Jae (Crowder) and D.J. (Johnson-Odom) have done a great job leading our guys on a daily basis,” Williams said after the Washington win.

The crunch-time pressure surrounding Crowder’s 3-pointer is something Johnson-Odom has already been part of twice this season, but with mixed results.

Against Norfolk State, Johnson-Odom missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 28 seconds left in regulation and Marquette leading 59-57.

Then against the Badgers, he redeemed himself, draining both free throws with 51 seconds left and extending Marquette’s lead to 57-51.

“D.J. is the guy we would want on the line (with the game on the line),” Mayo said. “Every day after practice, before practice, he’s always shooting free throws. Yeah, Jae (Crowder) too. We would want those guys on the line at the end of the day.”

Against the Badgers on Saturday, Crowder found himself in foul trouble early and never found his groove in an emotional road game. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t impacting the game.

“He just kept us focused on the bench,” Mayo said. “Even though he wasn’t playing much, he was just on the bench talking. That’s what leaders do. They talk and they lead in many different ways.”

Freshman wing Juan Anderson is one player who can testify to Crowder’s leadership. Crowder has taken him under his wing since both are forwards.

Anderson said Crowder has “really taken on the definition of being a leader.”

“He’s just really been positive, that’s the biggest thing,” Anderson said. “I feel like when someone’s positive (with you then) it takes a big burden off of your shoulder — especially when it’s coming from your senior leader.”

And the senior leaders, Williams said, continue to move towards a state of mind that resembles his.

“I think the combination of those guys, they’re different in personalities. But they’re very similar in their thought processes,” Williams said. “Their thought processes have continued to trend toward they think like I think, and I think that’s healthy. Even if I’m wrong, at least we’re all wrong.”

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