Williams will miss Johnson-Odom, Crowder
MILWAUKEE — There have been larger senior classes in Marquette basketball history. And certainly, there have been more star-laden and high-profile classes as well.
But undoubtedly, few have had as much of an impact on their teams as guard Darius Johnson-Odom and forward Jae Crowder, who will take to Al McGuire Court one last time Saturday when No. 8 Marquette hosts No. 11 Georgetown at the Bradley Center.
Heading into that game, the duo has combined for 2,514 points, 784 rebounds, 369 assists and 310 three-pointers in two years. This season, they rank Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in scoring -- Johnson-Odom is averaging 18.3 points and Crowder 17.4. Crowder also leads the team in rebounding (7.7 per game) and is second in field-goal accuracy (51.1 percent). The two are the biggest reasons the Golden Eagles are 24-6 overall and can finish second in the Big East with a victory Saturday.
Not much was known about either player when they came to Marquette after junior college stints. In many ways, Johnson-Odom and Crowder typify the player that most appeals to coach Buzz Williams: scrappy, gritty, under-recruited and dripping with basketball savvy and work ethic.
"I think it's hard to argue that those two guys are anything but lion chasers," Williams said. "Those guys don't get chased by the lion, they chase the lion. I think that's very rare, that you find guys in this day and age that you can give that title to, and that's what I think those two guys are."
Crowder, the Junior College Player of the Year before coming to Marquette, has become a Big East Player of the Year candidate as a senior. He earned his second consecutive league Player of the Week honor after averaging 26.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 2.5 assists and 2.5 blocks in victories against Rutgers and West Virginia, shooing 64.5 percent from the field in the process.
In his last four outings, Crowder averaged 26.3 points with 7.3 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists and has hit 36 of 58 shots.
More important than individual statistics, Johnson-Odom and Crowder have contributed significantly to a much more impressive number: 46 total victories. When all is said and done, that's what they'd like to be remembered for.
"Everybody wants to be known for their wins," Johnson-Odom said Friday. "Me and Jae, we both want to be known as two guys nobody really knew, coming in from Juco, and had an impact on and off the court."
With that in mind, the Golden Eagles are hoping to snap a string of three consecutive Senior Day losses. Marquette hasn't won on Senior Day during Williams' four years as coach, and both those seniors, and the team overall, would like to see that trend come to an end.
"Jimmy (Butler) played a great game last year, but as his backup, his teammates, we didn't give him a big enough boost to get that win," Crowder said. "I remember him playing well. I remember the year before that, the overtime game against Notre Dame ... just some tough losses, and we're looking to turn it around tomorrow."
Williams said a victory Saturday would help relax him a bit for the postgame ceremonies, when he'll have to find the words to salute his two seniors.
"I'm not good at saying goodbyes," Williams said. "I would say it's bittersweet. That's probably the appropriate adjective. I don't handle it very good."
Will he play?
Williams said Friday the chances of center Davante Gardner playing Saturday against the Hoyas are "slim."
The 6-foot-8 freshman has been out since spraining his knee Jan. 28 in the Golden Eagles' 82-78 victory at Villanova. He'd been the team's starter at center after Chris Otule went down with a knee injury in December and had been showing steady improvement.
Gardner went through warmups Wednesday, before Marquette's game at Cincinnati, but didn't play in a loss to the Bearcats.
"He's progressing," Williams said. "He practiced for 22 minutes yesterday when it wasn't live. We'll see if he can get to 25 minutes, with three minutes of it live.
"I'd like to be able to play him at some point, only when he's healthy and when he's confident in his health, and only when our team is confident that he can contribute to us winning."