Marquette’s Davante Gardner must’ve taken something from Otto Porter’s performance on Saturday.
Two days after Georgetown’s leading man hung 33 on Syracuse in a win, Gardner put up his own big game with 26 points and eight rebounds in a 74-71 home win over the Orange.
Gardner mixed in few mid-range jumpers — he hit all seven of his attempts on the night — along with his work around the basket and got to the free throw line often, hitting 12-of-13 from there.
He paced the Golden Eagles, who hit 29-of-35 free throws (82.9 percent) on the night. On the other side of the free throw spectrum, Syracuse was only 5-of-7 from the free throw line on the night.
Jamil Wilson and Junior Cadougan chipped in 12 points each as no. 22 Marquette (20-7, 11-4 Big East Conference) had 16 assists on 20 baskets and shot 42.6-percent from the field. C.J. Fair led no. 12 Syracuse (22-6, 10-5) with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Michael Carter-Williams scored 14 with five assists and committed four turnovers. James Southerland dropped in 15 points, including 4-of-11 threes.
With the win, Marquette moves into sole-possession of second place behind Georgetown in the Big East. The loss drops the Orange into a tie with Notre Dame for fourth place.
It was a breakout game for Gardner, a 6-8, 290-pound junior, who is averaging 11.6 points and 4.8 rebounds this season.
The game was also indicative of the type of season Gardner has had and how Marquette’s run almost parallel with his performance. Gardner has failed to score in double-figures in seven games this season. The Golden Eagles have lost five of those games. The two Marquette did win? Both wins over South Florida (eight in one game, four in the other), with a two-point effort in a loss to Louisville sandwiched in-between.
Gardner is also coming off a two-point, 1-for-4 effort in 11 minutes in a 60-56 loss at Villanova on Saturday.
An equally impressive stat is that with all of his consistency in scoring this season, Monday night’s effort was his first outing of 20+ points. It’s also his fourth game of 10+ free throws on the year and his second perfect shooting night, adding on to a 6-for-6 night in a 74-67 overtime win at Pittsburgh.
The big man is a necessary cog for Buzz Williams’ team, which virtually locked up an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament with the win on Monday night, if it hadn’t already. Marquette had an RPI of 16 headed into the game.
Gardner’s scoring numbers essentially pacing Marquette’s outcomes is staggering. And it’s something to watch as we get closer to conference tournament time. Gardner is the Golden Eagles’ primary low-post threat and has proven to have the type of game that allows him to the go-to guy they need. That could carry Marquette to an extent in the Big East Tournament, when the seeding fate will be decided.
Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten