If you’ve ever use the term "17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances" when arguing the merits of GU basketball, you owe a special thank you thank-you to Marquise Carter. Marquise isn’t usually in the discussion of all-time great Zags, but in a year when it looked certain the NCAA tournament string was going to be broken, Marquise stepped up and probably saved the season.
Things were looking shaky before the first practice of the 2010 – 11 basketball season. Matt Bouldin graduated, Bol Kong and Andy Polling flamed out, Grant Gibbs and G. J. Vilarino decided to transfer. GU still had a strong core of players; Sacre, Harris, Gray, Goodson, Stockton, Dower, a pre-clinic Olynyk, Hart and Aropp, but things weren’t meshing early in December. Sitting at 5 losses entering WCC play, GU went to the Bay area and was swept by Santa Clara and San Francisco. Hoping to right the ship at home against a strong St. Mary’s team, the exciting back and forth game ended with Mickey McConnell scoring the last of his 27 points around Rob Sacre’s outstretched arm for the game winning basket. GU was now 13 – 8, three games behind St. Mary’s in conference play and chances for even an at-large tournament bid looked highly unlikely.
Enter Marquise Carter. Carter was a JUCO star, highly recruited by several schools including his brother’s alma mater Oklahoma, before finally settling on Gonzaga. Pegged to be a replacement for Bouldin, Marquise had trouble breaking into the rotation. In the 7 games prior to the St Mary’s loss he’d averaged less than 6 minutes per game. After the St. Mary's loss and 21 games into the season, Mark Few decided it was time to shake up the starting line-up and in came Marquise Carter. Carter played great. He shot 57% from the field, dropping 20 and 18 in the Santa Clara/San Fran rematches, then 11 as GU beat St Mary’s at Moraga. With Carter starting and averaging 31 mpg, GU went 9 -1 over the next 10 games (frickin’ Memphis) and actually tied St. Mary’s
epic choke for the WCC regular season title.
Entering the WCC tournament, 22 – 9 Gonzaga with few marquee wins was probably outside the NCAA bubble looking in. Awaiting them were rubber game matches against San Francisco and St. Mary’s. Carter played great all-around basketball in both games, scoring 18 in hotly contested 71 – 67 USF win and following that with 11 against St Mary’s in the 75 -63 championship game victory. Carter was named WCC Tournament MVP for his efforts. In the opening round of the NCAA tournament against favored St John’s, Carter went off scoring 24 points with six assists and 6 rebounds in the 86-71 victory. In the next round, the entire team looked bad as GU got Jimmered against a BYU team starting a kid named Kyle Collinsworth (really) at the point.
Beginning his senior year, Marquise was obviously going to be a starter but he was going to face some stiff competition. Gonzaga recruited a couple of guards named Pangos and Bell. He opened the season with 17 points against Eastern Washington but the stat line was not so good; 2 for ll shooting and five turnovers (he had 12 free throws). Shooting woes (he shot 11% from three for the year) and turnovers continued to be a problem. He officially lost his starting job to GBJ after the sixth game of the season. Marquise played some meaningful minutes during the season, including scoring 13 in a loss at Provo, but only averaged 3 points a game. During the WCC and NCAA tournaments, he averaged 4.5 minutes with 9 points over the 4 games. An inglorious ending to a career after such a glorious prior year.
A lot of factors contributed to the 10 – 11 season turnaround, David Stockton’s quality minutes at the point, Sam Dower as a freshman super-sub, Harris finally breaking out of his early season sophomore slump. All were factors, but none were more important than the emergence of Marquise Carter and the cohesiveness he brought to the team. Marquise has been relegated to an asterisk in the Gonzaga basketball lore, but probably no other player played better at a more critical time for the team. Keeping the NCAA tourney streak alive for another year is not a certainty. Wouldn’t it be great if a current role player stepped forward to play their best basketball during the stretch run? Marquise Carter did.