ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP)—Sophomore guard Vander Blue had to travel all the way to the Caribbean to score the most points of his young career.
Blue made his first nine shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, and finished with a career-high 26 points to lead No. 21 Marquette to a 95-73 win over Winthrop in the opening round of the Paradise Jam Tournament on Friday.
Blue was one of five players to score in double figures for the Golden Eagles. His runner with 14:10 left started a 14-0 spurt that helped Marquette (3-0) run away in the second half.
“I felt really good tonight and my confidence has been up because of the players I’m playing with,” Blue said. “Darius and some of those seniors told me to keep pushing and I feel like this was a credit to them.”
Senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom picked up his third foul in the first minute of the second half but still finished with 20 points for Marquette. Chris Otule added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Marquette shot 57 percent (31 for 54) but coach Buzz Williams credited his team’s defense for making stops, which created fast-break opportunities.
“Our offense took some good shots and made some good shots,” Williams said. “I think what we do defensively really impacts how we run our offense. Hopefully, we can continue to score points. But those points are derivative of what we’re doing on defense.”
The Golden Eagles led by as many as 12 in the first half before taking a 45-37 lead into halftime. Marquette emptied its bench after opening a 20-point cushion with 9:37 left.
Andre Jones made four 3-pointers and scored a career-best 29 points for the Eagles (0-3). Reggie Middleton added 10 points.
“This was an eight-point game at halftime, so I think our guys were still in it at that point,” Winthrop coach Randy Peele said. “When you’re going up against a team like Marquette, you have to keep them at bay. In the second half, we couldn’t do that.”
Blue finished 9 of 11from the field and 10 for 13 at the free throw line. Jae Crowder and Todd Mayo scored 11 points apiece for Marquette.
“We came here to win all three games and you can’t do that without winning the first one,” Williams said. “We had some issues with the travel so it will be nice to get a day where we can get back in our routine and then focus on Sunday.”
Winthrop shot 42 percent (24 for 57) from the floor and made 10 3-pointers. Peele said the difference in the game was the strength of Marquette’s frontcourt and its ability to drive to the basket.
“Their guards just kept coming at us and when we buckled down in the paint, they always seemed to find the open man on the perimeter,” Peele said. “We’ll definitely take something away from this game.”
In addition to his four 3-pointers, Jones shot 7 for 9 from the free throw line.
“That was the best he has ever played,” Peele said. “Andre never gave up and he continued to attack.”