NCAA Division I Sports
NCAA Division I Sports
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On the cusp of big things as the season has progressed, the junior forward broke through in a major way Saturday in a game his team simply had to have.
Led by his career-high 29 points and clutch play after clutch play, the Marquette Golden Eagles finally came out on the positive end of a close game, winning their Big East opener, 79-74, over the West Virginia Mountaineers on New Year's morning at the Bradley Center.
The 6-foot-6 Crowder scored 16 of his points in the decisive second half, and added a crucial steal and free throw with 35 seconds left as MU (10-4) closed the game on a 6-0 run to win its fourth Big East lid-lifter since joining the league six years ago.
Darius Johnson-Odom added 21 points and Jimmy Butler 10 points, seven rebounds and six assists, not to mention the three game-clinching free throws in the final 26.9 seconds. But the story on this day was the dreadlocked Crowder, who was the model of efficiency from start to finish in a 39-minute stint.
Crowder knocked down 12 of 14 shots, including two from three-point range, while also tying for the game high with eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end. He also had five assists, four steals and a blocked shot.
“We made him a star, didn't we?” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “He played great. Anytime you're 12 for 14, you're pretty good. That's a pretty good day.”
Perhaps a sign of how things would turn out was when Crowder banked in a three from the top of the key at the 16:20 mark of the second half, as the teams tied each other or exchanged the lead 10 times the rest of the way.
Crowder's put-back of a Butler miss while being fouled with 3:32 left energized MU and the late-arriving crowd, and seemed to finally have helped the Golden Eagles over the hump. He missed the free throw, though, leaving MU with a 73-68 lead, and West Virginia (8-4, 0-2) roared back quickly.
Two free throws from Kevin Jones and then consecutive baskets by Darryl “Truck” Bryant (team-high 25 points) got the Mountaineers back in front, 74-73, with 1:44 remaining.
At that point, MU coach Buzz Williams called a timeout, out of which Dwight Buycks managed a three from the right wing that bounced off long. But out of nowhere came Chris Otule, who dunked home the miss for his only two points and put the Golden Eagles back in front, 75-74, at the 1:23 mark.
Johnson-Odom then missed the front end of a bonus after a Bryant miss, and West Virginia again had a chance to go ahead. Crowder ended the threat quickly, though, when he played the passing lane perfectly and intercepted a pass from Bryant to Casey Mitchell at the top of the key.
He had a clear path to the basket but Mitchell, the 2009 national junior-college player of the year, was whistled for an intentional foul after grabbing the shorts of Crowder, the 2010 winner of the same award, leading to two free throws and possession of the ball for the Golden Eagles.
Crowder split the free throws and then Butler did the same with 26.9 seconds left, leaving MU ahead, 77-74. West Virginia went with the hot hand in Bryant on the other end, but he badly missed a runner that Butler gobbled up with an emphatic rebound in traffic.
Butler was fouled again, and this time he hit both with 8.5 seconds left to clinch it.
“I thought our toughness prevailed from start to finish,” Williams said. “I thought our guys played with great energy, we had really good purpose and we played for one another.”
Crowder, meanwhile, has set career highs in each his last three games - 22 points in a win last week over Mississippi Valley State, 11 rebounds in a loss Wednesday at No. 24 Vanderbilt and now 29 points against the team Big East coaches picked in the preseason to finish fifth.
It's been a run that's helped establish the Georgia native as perhaps the Golden Eagles' new leader.
“When you look at the energy aspect of it for our team, I want to be the leader of that category,” Crowder said. “I just want to be a leader every day - at practice, in games. I don't know if it's my team or I have the right to say that, but I want to be a part of it, and I want to be a main focus.”
MU out-rebounded West Virginia, 34-24, and hit 14 of 21 free throws compared to 7 of 7 for the Mountaineers. The Golden Eagles also shot 52.6%, including 64.0% in the second half.