The idea that George Marshall could be an explosive scorer probably seemed like a myth to those who hadn’t seen him do it over and over on the scout team while redshirting last season for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
Marshall finally provided tangible evidence of his potential in a public setting late in the Badgers’ 70-66 loss at Iowa Saturday night.
The redshirt freshman guard was the silver lining for the Badgers in a defeat that ended their seven-game winning streak and dropped them out of first place in the Big Ten Conference standings.
Marshall was 7-for-10 overall from the field, 3-for-4 from 3-point range and 3-for-3 from the free throw line to finish with a career-high 20 points in 15 minutes of action. All of those points came in the final 14 minutes, 2 seconds of the game, including 16 in the final 4:33 and nine in the last 30.1 seconds.
“He showed some things that we have seen for the past year,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said.
When asked to elaborate, Gard said, “Just the aggressiveness. Playing like he belonged. In the past, it seemed like he was playing not to make a mistake.”
Time will tell if this was Marshall’s coming-out party and a sign of things to come over the second half of the season or an aberration. A good barometer could come as early as Tuesday night when the Badgers (13-5, 4-1 Big Ten) host first-place Michigan State (16-3, 5-1) at the Kohl Center.
“I think, hopefully, he can build off of this a little bit and get his confidence going and know what he’s capable of,” UW senior forward Jared Berggren said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes is to just get a taste of it and kind of see what you can do in a game situation in a hostile environment. For him to come in and knock down some big shots and make some big plays down the stretch is definitely encouraging.”
A season-ending knee injury to junior Josh Gasser opened the door for Marshall to become the first freshman to start at point guard for UW coach Bo Ryan since Randy Kazin did it on Ryan’s first team at UW-Platteville in 1984-85.
But Marshall lost his starting job after six games — he was replaced by sophomore Traevon Jackson — and has been coming off the bench ever since.
Marshall went 12 consecutive games without reaching double figures in scoring until Saturday’s outburst.
“This season, just overall, I haven’t really been using everything that I have,” Marshall said. “In the second half, I just put it all on the line and just attacked.
“I was just aggressive. I just played aggressive in that second half, and that’s what happened.”
When Marshall was asked why he hasn’t been more aggressive this season, he admitted he was concerned about making mistakes.
Ryan doesn’t have any patience for turnovers, poor shot selection, bad decisions or blown assignments on defense. Players that commit those cardinal sins will quickly find themselves seated on the bench, a position Marshall has found himself in too many times to count this season.
“Just at the beginning of the year, I kind of didn’t want to do too much or make a turnover here or there,” Marshall said. “But even though that’s what I didn’t want to do, me playing aggressive is what I should have done. And I think (Saturday night) will jump-start me for the rest of the season as far as how I’m going to play. So from here on out, I just plan on keep playing aggressive.”
Marshall played like he had nothing to lose against Iowa and, quite frankly, he didn’t. The Badgers were trailing by double digits for most of the game and had to force the issue on offense down the stretch, giving Marshall a golden opportunity to let loose.
He had a similar green light last year on the scout team. Marshall was generally assigned the role of the opposing team’s best perimeter player and didn’t have to worry about getting yanked out of the lineup if he took a bad shot or forced a pass.
“There’s a little longer leash on the scout team, there’s no doubt about that,” Gard said. “Or no leash.”
The leash is much shorter now that Marshall is in the rotation, but it isn’t like the coaches want him to be passive. On the contrary.
“We’ve said, ‘Hey, let’s go, be aggressive, make some things happen,’ ” said Gard, who stressed that Marshall needs to be more consistent on both ends of the floor. “Young players, there’s ups and downs. There’s peaks and there’s valleys.”
The Badgers hope the Iowa game is the jolt of confidence Marshall needed to get going this season because it’s hardly a secret his ability to get in the lane and create is a rare commodity on this team.
“He gives us a little juice with the ball and the ability to make plays and get in the gaps,” Gard said.
“Now, that tape will get out and, ‘OK, here’s how we’re going to play Marshall,’ and can he make those plays when he’s circled a little bit with a brighter highlighter on the scouting report?
“Or can he get in and make plays for his teammates? That’ll be the next phase. It’s just a continual growth process.”