Blue scores career-high 30 as Marquette moves into tie for first in Big East after win against USF
MILWAUKEE — Vander Blue knows it’s his time to lead No. 25 Marquette, and his play Monday night moved the Golden Eagles into a first-place tie with Syracuse in the Big East.
Blue scored a career-high 30 points to lead the Golden Eagles to a 63-50 victory over South Florida.
“I know what I can do,” the junior guard said after he made 13 of 20 shots. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. I’ve played against the best competition pretty much my whole life. I just knew my time was coming.”
In his first two seasons, Blue took a back seat to stars like Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, all players drafted into the NBA from Marquette the past two seasons.
“My first years wasn’t really my time,” he said. “We had guys like Darius, Jae, Jimmy, Dwight Buycks, guys I wanted to learn from.
“College is a different level than high school, I had to learn that,” he said. “Right now, I’m one of the leaders on this team so I get to shoot a little bit more and a lot more is expected of me.”
Blue, who came into the game as the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer at 13.9 points per game, made 13 of 20 shots from the field and scored 11 points during the big run that spanned both halves. The junior guard repeatedly sliced through the South Florida defense, driving to the basket and scoring on layups.
“Vander is in a really good groove and I don’t mean just offensively,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “I think he’s taking ownership, not statistically, he’s taking ownership in how we have to function.”
The Golden Eagles (15-4, 6-1 Big East), who have won eight of nine games, returned to the Top 25 on Monday after being out of the rankings last week.
South Florida (10-10, 1-7) opened the season 9-3 but has faltered since conference play began.
The Golden Eagles used a 21-4 run sandwiched around halftime to open a 38-24 lead on Blue’s driving baseline layup with 15:18 left. Marquette ended the first half on an 11-4 run and scored the first 10 points of the second half. The Bulls couldn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Marquette held a 38-14 advantage in scoring in the paint.
JaVontae Hawkins scored 14 points and Victor Rudd added 13 for the Bulls.
The game was played two days after a wayward bat in the Bradley Center disrupted the Golden Eagles’ 81-71 win over Providence by dive-bombing the court for several minutes. The only disruption Monday night was caused by Marquette’s defense, which held the Bulls to 27 percent shooting.
Point guard Anthony Collins missed all seven of his shots while forward Zach LeDay missed seven of nine. South Florida made only 15 shots — only two more than Blue — and missed 40 attempts.
“We were missing a lot of shots and not shooting well,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “The counter of that was they got too many transition baskets and out hustled us down the floor. And Blue really took advantage of that.”
Marquette’s Davante Gardner, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.2 points, was ejected after being called for a flagrant 2 foul with 13:46 left for hitting LeDay in the head with an elbow while they were fighting for the ball. Gardner finished with four points, the first time in nine games he didn’t reach double figures.
The ejection put into doubt Gardner’s availability for the Golden Eagles’ game at No. 12 Louisville on Sunday. Big East officials will review the play and decide whether to impose a suspension, Marquette officials said.
Bradley Center officials flushed the bat out Monday afternoon by recreating tipoff conditions with lights and music. Marquette officials said the bat quickly reappeared, flew into an atrium and then outside through a door apparently unharmed.
A special “Batcam” was played during a timeout with a Batman character running through the crowd, and an animal control officer was in attendance in case there was more than one bat in the building.
Blue scored nine points in the first half and Marquette led 28-24 at halftime. The Golden Eagles closed the half on an 11-4 run and took the lead for good at 24-22 on Gardner’s tip-in of a missed free throw by Blue with 4:06 to go.
The teams play again Feb. 6 in Tampa.