Big men Otule, Gardner key to Marquette's early success
Buzz Williams looked down at the stat sheet and paused.
In Tuesday's 64-53 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, Marquette University centers Chris Otule and Davante Gardner combined for 28 points in 39 minutes of play, with Otule scoring 10 and Gardner a team-high 18 off the bench.
The centers were the only Golden Eagles to reach double figures.
"I don't know if that's ever occurred here," Williams said of two centers leading Marquette in scoring. "It hasn't since I've been employed here. And those 5's look like they're 5's."
Through Marquette's first two games, the 6-foot, 11-inch Otule has scored 21 points while the 6-8 Gardner has scored 32. Otule has imposed his will in the paint, setting up shots deep in the post, and scoring off soft baby hooks with both hands.
Gardner tends to work more from the blocks, using a quick first step to seal off a path to the basket. He's high energy, can get to the free throw line and at times, the offense can be run through him because of his passing ability.
"Davante and Chris are probably two of the better 5's that have ever been on the same roster because they are so different," Williams said before the season started.
Coming into this season, the pair only played seven full games together before Otule blew out a knee after two minutes of action against Washington early last season. While Otule admits his conditioning isn't where he wants it to be just yet, the fact that he and Gardner are both healthy have set them up for early success thanks to spirited practices.
"In practice it's just a, I don't know, it's just a big fight in practice between me and Davante," he said with a smile. "We make each other better. I'm supposed to be a pretty decent defensive player, (and) he's supposed to be a good offensive player, so we just utilize that and help each other out."
Otule and Gardner are "bigs" by the truest basketball definition, and they may become the foundation of this Golden Eagles team.
What a foundation it can be, too, especially since this team is being built without the known commodities that Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom had become over the last two years.
"I've learned that every team is a house. And we all live in that house. And when the season's over, that house goes on the market - you can't live it in again," Williams said of his program. "So you can look up the stats – Jae and DJ – 37 points, 12 rebounds, 70 minutes combined. They were pretty impressive. You could argue they were probably the best combo of guys that's been here in a long time."
Williams continued: "Relative to who replaces them and how that plays out, nobody knows that. We're in a different house. I like the house that we're building. I like the people we're building it with. But we're not going to replicate exactly who DJO and Jae were as players. But I think collectively I like where we're at."
In Marquette's first two games, the most consistent aspect of the team has been Otule and Gardner. And when things got tight on Tuesday night, when the offense bogged down and Southeast Louisiana crept back into the game – the team looked for the big men to get a basket.
"When things were struggling we were reliant upon them. I think that's positive," Williams said of Otule and Gardner. "I think they can pay the rent. I think those two guys can pay the rent. We could probably rent a good house."
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