HARTFORD, Conn. — Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom are Marquette's two best players and they were at it again Saturday in the Golden Eagles' 79-64 win at Connecticut. Crowder scored 29 points and grabbed 12 boards, while Johnson-Odom scored 24 and made four 3s.
Both players are invaluable, but the impact of Jamil Wilson shouldn't be overlooked. His presence as the lone post player has saved Marquette, which has now won 10 of its last 11 since scuffling around New Year's.
Wilson, a one-time Oregon player who transferred back to his native state, allows the Golden Eagles to go small. They are faster. They are more efficient. And they are now more dangerous in the open floor, especially after a made basket.
“We run the ball faster,’’ Crowder said of the impact of Wilson, who scored nine points, had six boards, blocked a shot and played 39 minutes against UConn.
Marquette needs every contribution it can get from the 6-7 redshirt sophomore. The reason? The Eagles lost big man Chris Otule to a season-ending injury after just eight games. Third-leading scorer and rebounder Davante Gardner is out at least for the next two weeks with a knee injury.
But MU is 4-1 in Gardner’s absence and Wilson is a big reason why.
“The thing about it is he’s so versatile, he’s really smart and he defends every possession for us,’’ Marquette associate head coach Tony Benford said. “He understands where everybody is supposed to be offensively. He rebounds the basketball. The knock on him was that he wasn’t tough enough. But he got tougher going against Jimmy Butler last summer. He’s buying in and doing a lot of different things to help this team win.’’
Wilson was involved in a number of scoring plays in the first half against the Huskies. He pulled his defender all over the court, forcing him to chase. He took 3s and missed them both, but it was enough to force a defender to think about chasing him outside the lane.
“We prepped to play like this in the preseason,’’ Wilson said. “This smaller lineup can help us out run a lot of people. We can get a lot of layups on transition. It’s like we’re playing five guards out there.’’
The coaching staff said Gardner may not come back until the Big East tournament. And Marquette coach Buzz Williams said he may not force the issue because he doesn’t want to mess with the rhythm of this crew.
Regardless, Wilson said his role won’t change at all.
“I’ll just continue what I’m doing,’’ he said. “When we’re moving like this, teams have a hard time staying with us.’’
Marquette finishes up with Rutgers at home, road games at West Virginia and Cincinnati and then back at home against Georgetown. None will be easy. Marquette could easily go 2-2 or 1-3. But the personnel is in place to go 4-0 and continue this roll.
The smaller lineup is a good watch, seems to run smoothly and will work well in March. Gardner will help in halfcourt games, but having Wilson in the lineup means the Golden Eagles will be even tougher to defend and harder to eliminate in March.