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Winthrop challenges No. 21 Marquette in Paradise Jam

The 21st-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles have traveled to St. Thomas for the 2011 Paradise Jam, and they will begin action at the event with tonight's game against the Winthrop Eagles.

Winthrop opened the season with a double-digit home loss to Eastern Kentucky and hoped for a better result against Virginia in Tuesday's home game. Unfortunately for the Eagles, members of the Big South Conference, they were handled rather easily by the Cavaliers in a 69-48 setback.

As for Marquette, it is hoping to continue a trend of recent success in regular season tournaments, as the program has claimed three titles since 2004-05 and advanced to the final game in three other events. The Golden Eagles have yet to be tested this season, as they have crushed Mount St. Mary's (91-37) and Norfolk State (99-68) in consecutive outings to kick things off.

Winthrop actually beat Marquette in the only previous meeting between the programs back in 2005.

The fact that Winthrop scored only 48 points in the loss to Virginia earlier this week suggests that there is major room for improvement at the offensive end of the court. The Eagles began the game ice cold, shooting a mere 31.8 percent from the field, including 2-of-8 from three-point range. Sure, they rallied to shoot 50 percent in the second half, but 10 field goals in final 20 minutes simply weren't enough. Virginia outrebounded Winthrop by a 33-20 margin and also outscored the Eagles by a 19-9 count from the foul line. Leading the way in defeat was Reggie Middleton, as he scored 16 points for Winthrop. Middleton was held to eight points in the season opener on 2-of-10 shooting from the field, so it was good to see the standout guard get on track, albeit in a defeat.

It is clear through the first two games of this season that Marquette will lean heavily on the duo of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder to be productive at the offensive end of the court. Johnson-Odom is shooting 65 percent from the floor while averaging 20.0 ppg, and Crowder is close behind with 19.5 ppg on his 62.5 percent field goal efficiency. In Monday's 31-point win over Norfolk State, Crowder posted 25 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists and three steals. As for Johnson-Odom, he contributed 24 points and six assists, and the team shot 53.2 percent from the floor while racking up 26 assists. A 24-11 advantage in points from the foul line certainly helped the cause, as did 25 forced turnovers.