No. 17 Marquette 67, South Florida 47
Gardner scored 15 points and No. 17 Marquette beat South Florida 67-47 on Tuesday night, the latest step in an impressive season for the sophomore forward.
''He gives us a lot of inside power,'' Golden Eagles guard Darius Johnson-Odom said. ''I don't know why a lot of teams haven't really focused in on him, haven't really started to double the post when he catches the ball. But if you're going to let him play one-on-one, it's probably either a foul or a basket.''
Johnson-Odom scored 17 points and Jae Crowder added 15 points for the Golden Eagles (17-4, 6-2 Big East), who have recovered from their rough start in conference play by winning five straight games.
''I just think we're in a really good groove,'' Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. ''And obviously when you win, everybody gets more greedy (for success) and that helps.''
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls (12-9, 5-3), who had a setback in what has otherwise been a hot start in the Big East. South Florida had won three straight coming into Tuesday's game, including a victory at DePaul on Sunday.
Bulls coach Stan Heath said Gardner adds another dimension for Marquette.
''You expect Crowder and Odom to put numbers on the (board), but Gardner had a terrific game,'' Heath said. ''They went to him early in the game and he got us in some foul trouble and that was something that affected us quite a bit.''
Williams said Gardner's development has gone a long way toward helping the team rebound from a season-ending left knee injury to center Chris Otule. Williams noted that Gardner still has room to improve.
''He's good,'' Williams said. ''If he could guard a ball screen and lose 30 pounds, he'd be really good. I don't know when he's going to be able to guard a ball screen, or be able to lose 30 pounds, but he has continued to improve and our team has continued to evolve.''
It was the 100th career victory for Williams, who made a self-deprecating joke that he was lucky to have a coaching job beyond being an assistant in high school. And given Williams' notorious love for reciting statistics from memory, you'd better bet he knew he was going for No. 100.
''Not to sound like a weirdo, (but) I beat all of you all when it comes to numbers,'' Williams said. ''As much as you all Twitter and Facebook and act like you study stuff, you all sleep way more than I study numbers.''
Marquette went on a 7-0 run at the end of the first half to take a 33-21 lead.
The Golden Eagles put together another surge coming out of halftime, and Johnson-Odom's 3-pointer gave Marquette a 39-22 lead with 18:49 left in the game.
Crowder hit a 3 at the 15:13 mark, South Florida threw the ball out of bounds on their next possession and Johnson-Odom scored on a driving layup, giving the Golden Eagles a 20-point lead.
South Florida came into Tuesday's game as one of the Big East's better defensive teams, allowing a league-low 57.9 points per game in conference play. But the Bulls didn't have the offensive fireworks needed to mount a comeback.
It was Marquette's defense that stood out Tuesday night, as the Golden Eagles forced 22 turnovers while committing only five. Marquette outscored South Florida 20-3 off turnovers.
''No chance,'' Heath said. ''We gave ourselves no chance.''
Gardner continued his impressive offensive play for a Marquette team that isn't used to outmuscling opponents inside, especially in the Big East.
The Golden Eagles made a point to get Gardner involved right away, getting the ball to him on virtually every possession early. Gardner scored the Golden Eagles' first six points.
''We scouted him,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''We knew exactly what he was going to do. It was just about executing and getting things done.''
Marquette's a 7-0 run to close the half started with a 3-pointer by Jamil Wilson and two free throws by Todd Mayo.
The Golden Eagles then got one final fastbreak opportunity at the end of the half, and Johnson-Odom missed a layup - but Wilson went high in the air to slam it home with both hands, giving Marquette a 33-21 lead.
''They go in the locker room smiling, I go in the locker room yelling,'' Heath said.