Ellenson scored a season high 32 points, pulled down ten rebounds and blocked six shots in leading Marquette to a hard-fought 75-69 victory over the Butler Bulldogs in a Big East contest in Milwaukee.
“He didn’t play like one of the best freshman in the country,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “He played like one of the best players in the country.”
While the 6-11 Ellenson has won the Big East Conference Freshman of the Week award four times in the first 11 weeks of the season and has generally impressed the country with his varied skill set, he had yet to showcase all his considerable talents while leading Marquette to a win. But he had all parts of his game cooking against Butler scoring from all three areas of the court and doing major work at the free throw line connecting on 14-of -6 attempts.
It’s ironic that Ellenson played his best game of his young Marquette career on the heels of one of his worse. In a non-conference victory over Stetson on January 27, the Rice Lake, Wisconsin native made only three of twelve shots in scoring 12 points.
That performance prompted a sit-down with Wojciechowski. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say what was said to him (Ellenson) when we watched the tape, but to his credit, he took in the truth and took it head on,” said the Marquette coach. “We talked a lot after the Stetson game,” said Ellenson. “We broke down the film to see where I needed to attack more. I create a mismatch with my size and I was settling for jump shots. I know what my teammates need from me. I had a bad attitude last game and that’s not me.”
The one area Ellenson seemed to have struggled the most in the Golden Eagles’ first 21 games was shooting. Ellenson carried a reputation as a good, but not great, shooter with him to Marquette, yet through the Golden Eagles’ first 21 games, the former McDonald’s All-American was connecting on only 42 percent of his field goal attempts and only 27 percent of his shots from behind the three-point arc.
After watching teammates Haanif Cheatham and Jujuan Johnson combine to score the Golden Eagles’ first nine points, Ellenson proceeded to score 18 of Marquette’s next 28 points over the final 15 minutes of the first half as both teams battled to a 37-37 halftime score.
Ellenson started his scoring spree by running the court in transition, taking a pass from Sandy Cohen and finishing with a two-handed dunk.
Not blessed with great lift, Ellenson relies on his length, ability to shoot with both hands and a developing hoops IQ to get his shot off in the paint and mid-range areas of the court. A right-handed dominant shooter, Ellenson showed his versatility by turning quickly over his right shoulder out of a post-up on the left side of the lane to score with a left-handed lean-in shot midway in the first half.
While the accuracy of his shot from behind the arc has been uneven to date, Ellenson found space to shoot two three-point shots in the first half and connected on them both. He brought the season-high Bradley Center crowd of 15,234 to its feet by nailing a long fadeaway jumper from the left corner to barely beat the shot clock and give Marquette a 37-32 lead deep into the half.
Marquette looked to take be taking a 37-34 lead into the intermission, but Butler guard Roosevelt Jones knotted the score at 37 all by launching and banking in a three-quarter court shot as the halftime buzzer sounded.
That shot capped a fantastic first half for Jones, a 6-4 redshirt senior guard with broad shoulders, a thick upper body and strong lower half who was starting his 122nd consecutive game. Jones has a unique skill set rarely seen at a high division one basketball school like Butler. His game plays below the rim and is predicated on penetration. Once in the lane, Jones is a master at shooting the running lay-up with both hands. He uses a quick release and different release points to get off his shot before defenders can react to block it.
To stress how much Jones wants to drive the basketball, the three-point prayer he had answered as the halftime horn went off was his first made three-pointer of his career; he had only attempted one other shot from distance.
Jones scored 15 points in the first half and was helped in the scoring category by sophomore Kalen Martin. Starting for only the third time this season, the 6-6 Martin was a handful for Marquette all game. He scored from distance, in the mid range and one time drove the ball hard to the rim with his off (left) hand to finish strong with a left-handed dunk. His 27 points led Butler and established a career high for the native of Louisville, Kentucky.
While Marquette struggled to contain Jones in the first half and Martin all game, it did a solid job keeping Butler shooting guard and preseason all-conference first team member Kellen Dunham in check. The senior scored 15 points, but none of them came from easy looks.
Wojciechowski assigned Cheatham, a 6-5 freshman with good length, the assignment of checking Dunham. When guarding off the ball, Cheatham sold out to his man trying to either deny Dunham the catch or make him receive the ball outside his comfort area. Even though Dunham was able to shake free to get off 12 shots, he made only 1-of-4 shots from distance. Marquette forced him into two turnovers, one coming deep in the second half when Butler was attempting to rally.
“They gave me a little more attention and a little more face guarding than what I’ve seen in the rest of the league,” said Dunham. “Dunham is the best shooter in our conference and one of the best shooters in the United States,” said Wojciechowski. “Haanif only had six points, but this was one of his best games. He did an amazing job on him. You can contribute to winning even though the ball is not going through the hoop. He had remarkable competitiveness, toughness and concentration.”
As well as Ellenson played, Marquette needed the play of point guard Traci Carter and his 15 points in order to top the Bulldogs. Relegated to a reserve role after spending most of the season as a starter, Carter entered the game with a 22 percent shooting percentage from behind the three-point arc. As most teams do when guarding Carter, Butler gave the freshman space upon his catches in the half court. Carter misfired on his first two attempts from distance, but he hit his third and did not stop until he had made five in a row to account for all his 15 points.
“They kept helping off me so my teammates saw that and kept giving me the ball,” said Carter. “I take offense to it, but I know I’m going to start hitting them. It’s all a matter of confidence.”
Anticipating a big student turnout now that second semester classes have resumed on the Marquette campus, Wojciechowski had donuts brought to students waiting in line to enter the Bradley Center for the 11 am start. “The students were fantastic today; must have been the donuts,” deadpanned Wojciechowski. “Today was a great win against a veteran team with the most unique player in the conference (Jones).”
That the Golden Eagles played one of their best games of the season after a lackluster win against Stetson the game before was especially satisfying to the second year Marquette coach. “We are number 344 of the 351 teams in the country in terms of experience,” he said. “So it’s going to be a process. It’s not going to work in a straight line. It goes up and then you have to crawl out of the valley. Today was another example of us growing and getting better.”
The victory improved Marquette’s Big East record to 4-5 as it embarks on a two-game road swing to Seton Hall on February 3 and Xavier on February 6. Butler’s conference record fell to 3-6. The Bulldogs return home to Indianapolis on February 2 to face Georgetown.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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