Marquette Men’s Basketball: Blue steps up in Gardner’s absence

Vander Blue dunks the ball against Seton Hall. Photo by Rebecca Rebholz/rebecca.rebholz@Marquette.edu

After 27 minutes Tuesday night, the Golden Eagles’ offense had made 12 of 31 shots — including only 1-of-10 3-pointers — had turned the ball over 15 times, had scored just 30 points and faced a six-point deficit against Seton Hall.

So with its back against the wall, looking for a scorer and hoping to keep its six-game winning streak alive, Marquette turned to the unlikeliest of offensive sources.

Vander Blue.

For a player who had not scored in double figures in 12 games and had averaged 4.9 points in Big East play, Blue looked awfully calm as he scored seven straight points to give Marquette a lead it would not surrender.

A 40-foot, highlight-reel alley-oop from junior guard Junior Cadougan, a shot clock-beating 3-pointer from the left wing and a transition layup in successive possessions from Blue gave Marquette a one-point lead and helped the Golden Eagles pick up their seventh straight conference win, a 66-59 victory over Seton Hall.

“It’s two points at the end, and we needed it,” Blue said of his dunk. “We needed a play to say, ‘Come on guys, let’s get going. This is what we do.’ And I think that play helped us get going.”

Including Blue’s alley-oop, Marquette outscored Seton Hall 34-23, shot 53 percent from the field and turned the ball over three times in the final 13 minutes.

Coach Buzz Williams applauded Blue’s performance in half-court sets against Seton Hall’s disguised defenses. The Pirates constantly gave man-to-man looks and then switched to zone when the ball went to a certain area on the floor, and vice versa.

“I think he’s getting more and more comfortable within what we do offensively on when we want him to cut, when we want him to curl, when we want him to pop versus man, versus zone,” Williams said of Blue. “And that’s hard to do for anybody.”

Blue’s 7-of-10 effort from the field was his best shooting performance in two and a half months, and his scoring outburst midway through the second half sparked the Marquette offense, but more important was his commitment to the glass.

Without sophomore forward Davante Gardner, sidelined with a left knee sprain, Blue picked up the slack by grabbing eight rebounds and helped Marquette win the rebounding advantage by four (37-33). Entering the game, Seton Hall was the fifth-best rebounding team in the Big East.

“When you get eight rebounds and five of them are offensive, and you’re a guard, that changes the complexion of our team, particularly as big as we were tonight,” Williams said. “I thought he was huge.”

All seven of Marquette’s second chance points came as a result of Blue’s offensive rebounds.

Senior forward Jae Crowder, who recorded a double-double for the second consecutive game with 20 points and 12 rebounds, said Blue’s improved play will be key for Marquette going forward.

“That’s what he brings, and that’s what we need to do night in and night out,” Crowder said. “A lot of teams might be disrespecting him because of his lack of consistency early in the year, but once he gets that down, we’ll be even better.”

Outside of the box score, Blue’s ability to play on the wing as a third guard gave Seton Hall’s tall lineup fits late in the game. Seton Hall coach, Kevin Willard, said Marquette’s ability to play small, using Blue instead of a third forward, “really hurt us.”

Blue said his confidence began increasing following his 4-of-4 performance from the free throw line in the closing minutes of Marquette’s win over Villanova.

“I can feel it in practice. I’m getting back to where I was earlier in the season,” Blue said. “It’s really good for me, but I think when I play well it really helps our team and takes our team to another level.”