Marquette’s Blue humbles USF with outburst

MILWAUKEE — Vander Blue had a text message waiting for him when he got back to the locker room after Monday’s 63-50 victory over South Florida.

It was from former Marquette star Darius Johnson-Odom and it simply read: “Call me ASAP.”

Blue’s former Marquette teammate wanted to talk about how the junior guard did something Monday night that Johnson-Odom or even Jae Crowder never did in a Marquette uniform: score 30 points in a game.

Blue scored a career-high 30 points, becoming the first Golden Eagle to score 30 or more in a Big East victory since Steve Novak torched UConn for 41 points in Marquette’s first-ever Big East game in 2006.

A night where Marquette needed its leading scorer to carry the load, Blue did just that. The result was another win, moving the Golden Eagles into a tie with Syracuse for first place in the Big East at 6-1.

“I just got in a really good groove and my teammates started finding me,” Blue said. “I got going early, two quick layups early. I just felt really good out there. I didn’t want to force anything and it was just how the game was going.”

Marquette coach Buzz Williams noted after Saturday’s win that he felt Blue was in a really good groove. While Williams kept Blue on the court for 39 minutes against Providence, it was much easier to see what he meant Monday.

Blue was aggressive, not settling for jump shots and taking the ball to the basket and finishing through contact.

“I just don’t mean offensively,” Williams said of Blue’s groove. “I think he’s beginning to take ownership, not statistically, I think he’s taking ownership in how we have to function.

“I think Vander’s heart is in the right spot. I think he’s been accountable for his work and his prepration and I think mentally, physically and emotionally he’s in a really good groove.”

After second-leading scorer Davante Gardner was ejected in the second half for a flagrant-2 foul, Blue knew he had to be the guy. It would have been easy to press in that situation, but he didn’t and still found a way to score 13 points after Gardner’s ejection.

“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Blue said. “They are a really good defensive team and they are really big. You can’t get in the lane, so I wanted to make sure I used my pull-up (jumper) and just took advantage of when I had a step and made sure I finished.”

Monday was just another step in the maturity process Blue is accelerating through.

Coming to Marquette with enormous expectations – partially due to his recruiting process and partially because he was one of the biggest recruits in Wisconsin history – Blue was an easy target for critics when he didn’t post monster numbers in his first two years in Milwaukee.

Knowing there were players ahead of him on the totem pole like Johnson-Odom and Crowder, Blue didn’t let the naysayers get him down. Now, as a junior, Blue is showing why he was such a highly touted prospect.

“I knew what I could do,” Blue said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. I’ve played against the best competition my whole life and I just knew my time was coming. The first few years it really wasn’t my time.”

While he’s becoming the leader of this Marquette team, Williams sees Blue as a different type of leader than Jimmy Butler, Lazar Hayward, Johnson-Odom or Crowder.

Blue has had to suffer through some struggles in the process of figuring out who he is as not only a basketball player, but a person.

“Van is magnetic,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s magnetic in a bad way, sometimes it’s magnetic in a good way. I don’t know if devisive is the right word. He has put himself in toxic situations on the floor, when he’s subbing out.

“You look at him (in the past) and say ‘What are you doing?’ Magnetic can be for good or for bad, and I think he’s starting to understand good.”

And what’s good right now for the Golden Eagles is the fact they are tied for first place as January winds down. While Marquette is tied for the fewest conference games played and the fewest road conference games played, the Golden Eagles being in first place is surprising given the fact of where they were just a short time ago.

The schedule ramps up starting Sunday in Louisville as the Golden Eagles play four games in eight days. But for one night, Blue can enjoy his big scoring night.

“It always feels good, especially at a high level like this in the Big East,” Blue said. “That’s a major accomplishment, but I care more about the wins and losses. I’m just happy we got the win. I was going to do whatever it took to win.”

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