The Marquette University forward proved to be one of the most versatile players in the country this year, and as one of two senior starters for the Golden Eagles, Crowder ultimately threw the team on his back down the stretch of the season en route to a 14-4 finish in Big East play, which put them in second place behind Syracuse in the league standings.
Crowder ranked third in the Big East in scoring (17.6), second in steals (2.4), ninth in rebounding (7.9) and eighth in field goal percentage (51 percent) — and the Villa Rica High School product really turned it on toward the end of the season.
Over the past seven games, Crowder averaged 23.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.0 steals. He posted seven double-doubles in Big East play and has 982 points in two seasons at Marquette.
Crowder, who was also selected as one of the 15 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award on Tuesday — given to the nation’s top men’s basketball player — will more than likely become only the fifth player in Marquette history to score 1,000 points in two years.
Crowder’s former coach, VR’s Jason Robinson, has kept in touch with him via text for most of the year and Robinson was happy to hear the good news on Tuesday.
Along with Crowder’s scoring and rebounding ability, Robinson noted that his basketball IQ and overall leadership are two of the other qualities he brings to the floor every night.
“You know, he always did the smart thing. He’s always been a smart basketball player. He’s very cerebral. He knows the game. He can always find the little dead zone in the zone. He knows how to play man. Honestly, they’re using him a lot on defense really kind of how we used him defensively. We didn’t think he was quick enough to play on the ball, so we played him off the ball with our traps and things like that,” Robinson said.
“So he was always in the middle of all that. And the thing they’re doing with their full-court pressure, he’s in the middle and just anticipating the pass. I think they do a good job adjusting to the personnel they had, considering they lost the two bigs [to injury].”
Crowder was the only unanimous selection for the Big East’s First Team, and Robinson believes he really emerged as the league’s Player of the Year in Marquette’s 61-60 road win at West Virginia on Feb. 24 in Morgantown, W.V.
With Golden Eagle coach Buzz Williams suspending three starters and a key bench player for a half, Crowder carried the team, scoring a game-high 26 points and playing the entire 40 minutes in what proved to be an emotional ball game.
Additionally, he held the Mountaineers’ Kevin Jones — the Player of the Year front-runner in the eyes of many at the time — to 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
“Jae had a great game. He played Jones really well defensively. To me, that was the defining moment in what he’s done in his career. Despite the odds and all, he was able to overcome just through hard work and sheer determination,” Robinson said.
And while Crowder possesses all the physical tools it takes to be one of the nation’s elite players, he is also a humble, high-character guy off the court. Robinson said it’s rare to find someone who’s never had a single discipline issue dating all the way back to his freshman year of high school and all through college.
“You know, you’re looking at eight years of basketball there. He never missed a game, he never got punished for anything for us. He’s a good kid on the floor and off. And that goes a long way,” Robinson said. “I think that those younger guys that are playing with him now on the team see that.”
Marquette (25-6), ranked No. 9 in the nation, opens play at the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night at 7 in the quarterfinal round against the winner of today’s No. 7 Louisville/No. 10 Seton Hall matchup.
And following a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 last year as a No. 11 seed, Crowder has Marquette primed for another run this March.
“I told him anything less than the final eight would be a disappointment,” joked Robinson. “[Crowder] just laughed and said, ‘Coach, you know how hard it is to do that?’ But, yeah, I just told him keep doing what you’ve been doing. There’s a lot more basketball to be played. We were texting back and forth a little bit [Tuesday] and I just hold him, ‘Hey, congratulations. You know, try to soak some of it in. Don’t let it pass you by. Take some of this in. You deserve it.’ He’s worked hard and come a long way. A very long way.”