Dominic James may be on pace to be Marquette’s all-time leading scorer, but the point guard’s defensive prowess could be the main reason the Golden Eagles are atop the Big East standings heading into Saturday’s game at Providence.
James is fourth on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game, and his average has steadily declined since his freshman season, when he averaged 15.3 points en route to being named the 2006 Big East rookie of the year. He is currently ninth on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,631 - 17 shy of seventh and 143 from surpassing George Thompson’s all-time mark of 1,773.
But James’ offensive numbers only begin to represent his all-around contributions. The senior has been providing lockdown defense for No. 14 Marquette (15-2, 4-0), which has won six straight and is tied with No. 1 Pittsburgh for the conference lead.
He harassed Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds into a 6-for-15 shooting performance while forcing him into four turnovers on New Year’s Day, held Cincinnati’s leading scorer Deonta Vaughn without a point for the first time in his college career, made Rutgers’ Mike Rosario take 24 shots to score 22 points and, most recently, turned Darryl Bryant into a non-factor in last Saturday’s 75-53 win over then-No. 25 West Virginia.
James quickly got Bryant in foul trouble, relegating him to 13 minutes, and also helped defend Alex Ruoff, who shot 4 of 12 from the field. Marquette was able to limit the Mountaineers to 35 percent shooting, partly due to the on-the-ball pressure James and fellow senior guards Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews were able to exert.
“Dominic can guard anybody he wants to as it relates to the scouting report,” first-year Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams said. “He is undersized to be on (Ruoff), but we are undersized at every other position so he can just join the group.”
James, who also chipped in with 17 points and seven assists, leads Marquette with 32 steals and has a 2.67-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. McNeal, who has averaged 23.0 points on 55.8 percent shooting in the four conference victories, is 25 behind James and 10th all-time with 1,606 points.
James assignment this weekend will be to try to shut down Sharaud Curry, who has averaged 9.3 points and 4.6 assists for Providence (11-5, 3-1). While Curry did have nine assists last Saturday at No. 9 Georgetown, he had only six points on 2-for-9 shooting in the Friars’ 82-75 loss to the Hoyas.
The Friars played well into the second half - holding a 44-40 lead with 16:15 to play - but went on to go scoreless for six-plus minutes as Georgetown reeled off 15 straight points to take control of the game.
“I still don’t know what happened. I’m shocked,” said Marshon Brooks, who led the Friars with 18 points. “We hit a brick wall in the second half.”
Brooks has emerged as a super sub for first-year coach Keno Davis, averaging 12.9 points while hitting a team-high 26 3-pointers. Providence is fifth in the Big East at 78.8 points per game, but ranks 15th in scoring defense (70.5) and last in defensive field goal percentage (43.8).
Those numbers bode well for a balanced and high-scoring Marquette team - the Golden Eagles are second in the Big East at 81.1 points per game - which has won three of the four games between the schools as conference rivals, but lost in its only trip to Providence in 2007. James had 21 points and six assists last season in a 96-67 rout.