The Assocaited Press
MILWAUKEE (AP) — About the only thing Vander Blue couldn't stop Saturday was a reckless bat.
Blue scored 13 points and played suffocating defense on the Big East's leading scorer to lead Marquette to an 81-71 victory over Providence in a game delayed several times because of a dive-bombing bat.
‘‘I thought it was Vander's best defensive effort,'' Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. ‘‘Vander's maturity as a human and as a player has really helped him be able to play the scouting report, be able to have a longer duration of concentration.''
Concentration was admittedly hard in the second half, as a bat circled the arena for more than 15 minutes, occasionally swooping to the floor and sending coaches, players and referees scrambling. Marquette lost its momentum with the delays but regained it to hold off the Friars.
Junior Cadougan led Marquette (14-4, 5-1 Big East) with 15 points, and Trent Lockett and Davante Gardner added 13 each as part of a balanced attack.
Bryce Cotton, who came in averaging 21.9 points per game, led Providence (10-10, 2-6) with 19 hard-earned points. He attempted just nine shots and made five.
Marquette was coming off a 63-61 overtime loss to Cincinnati last Saturday, and four of its first five conference games went to overtime or came down to the last possession.
Saturday's game was not that close.
Marquette never trailed and used an early 13-2 run to go up 19-8. The Golden Eagles led 40-32 at halftime, and used a 9-1 run early in the second half to lead 54-38. Providence got no closer than six points the rest of the way, and Marquette shot 57.7 percent (15 of 26) in the second half.
‘‘Zero, zero bright spots, not one,'' Providence coach Ed Cooley said. ‘‘There wasn't one bright spot in the game, other than Batman and Robin around the building.
‘‘Until we learn to become a better defensive team, we're not going to win in this league,'' Cooley said. ‘‘To get over the hump, you have to have a personality, and it starts at the defensive end. We made a million mistakes today. If you guard, you win. If you don't, you won't.''
Cotton had scored 20 or more points in five straight games. Blue led the defensive effort against him, and Cotton didn't attempt his first field goal until more than 12 minutes into the game. His first two points, on free throws, didn't come until the 9:18 mark. By then, Marquette led 21-11.
Sidiki Johnson kept Providence in it early. The 6-foot-10 sophomore center, playing in his 11th game with Providence after transferring from Arizona and sitting out the first nine games of the season, had 11 points in the first half off the bench, already a career high. He finished with 14.
Marquette outscored Providence 44-24 in the paint and had 16 fast-break points to Providence's four, as the Golden Eagles extended their home winning streak to 20, the sixth-longest active streak in the nation.
Said Cooley: ‘‘They lived in front of the lane so much I thought there was a house built there with a big ‘MU' on the front of it.''
The bat first appeared with about 11 minutes left, as it began flying near the court and circling over the crowd. At several points, it swooped near the floor, sending referees and players running — while the original ‘‘Batman'' theme played on the loudspeaker.
The game resumed following an initial 4-minute delay, but play was stopped again seconds later as the bat nearly flew into the side of Johnson's head, sending him to the court.
The bat continued to circle the court for the next few minutes. At one point, Cooley menacingly held up his clipboard waiting to swat it out of the air, and Marquette's Jamil Wilson threw a towel in the air trying to trap it.
The bat appeared several more times during the game.
With 8:52 left, it flew toward a group of players near the Marquette bench, and they jumped out of the way. Then, to cheers from the crowd, players, coaches and game personnel tried throwing towels at it to bring it down, but to no avail.
‘‘Crazy, it was crazy,'' Cadougan said. ‘‘Everybody was scared the bat was going to bite them. We were all scared, even the refs were scared. The commentator had a towel over his head.''