Davante Gardner scores 25 points to help No. 17 Marquette beat Southern 63-56

Marquette coach Buzz Williams wasn't about to blame the refs.

Davante Gardner scored 25 points and No. 17 Marquette set a team record with 53 free-throw attempts to beat Southern 63-56 Friday night in the season opener for both teams.

"Those officials are just like us, that's just their mode of trying to make a living," Williams said. "When your boss says write a 1,500-word blog, then you're going to write a 1,500-word blog. It's not an emphasis anymore; it's a rule. And it goes back to kind of how we were all taught to play: you play with your feet, not your hands. So it's fairly explicit now. When you're hands get involved, it's a foul."

Gardner, Marquette's leading returning scorer and the top sixth man in the Big East last season, was 5 of 7 from the field and made 15 of 20 free throws. The senior forward was a point off his career high set last season against Syracuse.

"He's tough," Southern coach Roman Banks said. "He can score in a lot of different ways, but he really passed the ball well out of double-teams tonight, too. With the new rules, it's even harder to defend him."

A new NCAA rule forbids a defensive player to put his hand on the player with the ball, which is one of the reasons why Marquette made 33 free throws compared to 13 field goals in the game.

Marquette was just 3 for 17 (17.6 percent) from the floor in the second half and made just one field goal in the final 14-plus minutes. The team was 18 for 32 (56.3 percent) from the free-throw line in the final 20 minutes.

"We were more like a pressure team who would get up in you," Gardner said. "But this year we have to back off and move our feet more.

"Later on in the season I think the refs will back off of it because that's when the games get more intense, when you're playing better teams."

The Golden Eagles won their 26th straight home game, the second-longest current streak in the NCAA. Marquette also won its opener for the 13th year in a row.

Todd Mayo added 20 points for the Golden Eagles and contributed on the defensive end.

"He made a couple of really good defensive plays tonight," Williams said. "And we don't necessarily need him to make steals, we just need him to be very sound in what we're doing as a team defensively. To his credit, he's worked really hard at doing that. And so has Davante, for that matter."

Malcolm Miller led Southern with 14 points, and Tre Lynch and YonDarius Johnson had 11 apiece.

"We're trying to find our offensive identity and figure out who to go to at times," Banks said. "We just have to find our identity."

Marquette, picked to win the revamped Big East by league coaches after advancing to the NCAA regionals last season, led 47-43 lead midway through the second half and used an 11-1 run to take control.

After Gardner made three free throws, Mayo had a steal and layup to end a 6:17 stretch without a field goal by Marquette and give the Golden Eagles a 52-43 lead. Marquette capped the run with six more free throws, including four from Mayo, for a 58-44 lead with 3:35 to go.

During the Golden Eagles' run, Southern missed all five of attempts from the field, was 1 for 7 from the line and had six turnovers.

"I think Southern is really good," Williams said. "I've said that throughout the week. I have great respect for Coach Banks. I think he's doing an outstanding job. I think when you play on a neutral floor as a 16 seed against Gonzaga, a No. 1 seed, and you lose by six and you have several opportunities down the stretch to win it, they're not going to come to the Bradley Center and play Marquette and think any other way other than this is another chance for us to prove we're a really good team. I think they are a really good team. It's not your typical home opener at the high-major level. But I hope in time it'll end up being a really good RPI win."

Before the game, Marquette unveiled a banner commemorating its Big East regular-season championship from last season.