Justin Lewis playing key role in first year despite injury

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First-year forward Justin Lewis goes up for a layup against Oklahoma State back on Dec. 1. Lewis had a career-high 13 rebounds in 22 minutes against the Cowboys (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

First-year forward Justin Lewis has started his career at Marquette by proving how valuable he is to the program and to his head coach.

The 6-foot-7, 225-pound four-star prospect out of high school came out of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore, the same city where head coach Steve Wojciechowski attended high school, which was important to Lewis in his recruiting.

“It meant a lot,” Lewis said. “Seeing the path he’s taken and the things he’s done in his career, I just want him to help me on my path.”

Lewis has impressed during his short time in college, as he was one of three incoming forwards alongside first-years Dawson Garcia and Oso Ighodaro. Also, when he has been out due to injury, his team has missed his impacts on the court.

After missing two consecutive games with a bone bruise injury, Lewis returned against Creighton, but played just eight minutes and was shut down in the second half as a precautionary measure. Lewis then missed the next game against Villanova.

Despite the missed games, Lewis is averaging 8.1 points per game with six rebounds and 0.9 assists. He has a shooting percentage of 42.4% from the field, and is second on the team with 0.8 blocks per game.

Lewis was leading the team in rebounds off the bench before Garcia recently passed him. Despite this, Wojciechowski called Lewis “the best rebounder on our team.”

“He has a nose for the ball,” Wojciechowski said. “A healthy Justin Lewis helps us a ton in a lot of areas.”

That nose for the ball won Marquette its biggest game of the season this year when they hosted then-No. 4 in-state rival Wisconsin. Lewis tipped in a missed free throw at the buzzer to avoid overtime and sent the Badgers home with their first loss of the season.

“I knew that I might have the opportunity if I crashed for the rebound, and then my instinct took over,” Lewis said. “We were able to stay calm and confident and I’m just glad we came away with the W.”

His coach was very impressed by the play from his new first-year.

“It was an incredible play,” Wojciechowski said. “To have the mindset of playing through the horn and anticipating a miss is incredible for any player, especially a freshman.”

He did not just show up for the final play either. Lewis’ 18 points against the Badgers remains his career-high and that game winning putback was his eighth rebound of the game. Before the Wisconsin game, Lewis grabbed a career-high 13 boards in just 22 minutes against Oklahoma State.

Since the Wisconsin game, Lewis has grabbed at least six rebounds in seven different games and has scored double-digit point totals five times as the team’s sixth man.

“I know J is going to fight,” sophomore guard D.J. Carton said. “He’s a big-time player making big-time plays.”

Marquette has been in need of the fight that Lewis brings as he has dealt with his injury. In the game against Creighton where Lewis played just eight minutes, Creighton won the rebounding battle 11-4. In the first matchup between the two teams, where Lewis played 31 minutes, it was the opposite, with Marquette winning 14-9 and Lewis grabbing four himself.

“We’re not going to win games against teams like Creighton giving up that many offensive rebounds,” Wojciechowski said. “Our offense is built around being able to get offensive rebounds.”

As a team, the Golden Eagles average over 10 offensive rebounds per game, many of which are collected by Lewis, Garcia and senior forward Theo John.

The Golden Eagles will now look for Lewis to come back from his bone bruise injury and provide the rebounding strength down low off the bench that he has often done early in his career.

This story was written by Matt Yeazel. He can be reached at Matthew.yeazel@marquette.edu or on Twitter @MJYeazel.