Disappointed. Sad. Sullen. Dejected. Crestfallen. Use whatever word you like, but the fact is that Marquette Nation is totally bumming today.
After watching conference rivals, Louisville, knock off top seeded Michigan State earlier in the night, Golden Eagles fans could see the path to New Orleans -- and it looked wide open. All that was needed was to get through the No. 7 seed, Florida Gators and then take down an old foe one more time. But it was not to be.
Things looked promising through the first few minutes. Marquette came out of the locker room looking strong. A nifty pass from Junior Cadougan got Jamil Wilson a wide open lay-up, and MU led by 5 at the first media timeout. But coming out of that timeout, Billy Donovan took a page out his mentor Rick Pitino's playbook and threw some full court pressure at Marquette. It worked about as well for Billy as it had for Slick Rick back in Madison Square Garden, as the following three possessions resulted in Marquette turnovers. By the next timeout, the game was tied and the level of anxiety in the Golden Eagles' fans rose dramatically.
Then, with 9:31 remaining in the half, Jae Crowder picked up his second foul. I'm pretty sure the mood at that point could be best described as "freaking out." The momentum of the game had clearly taken on an orange hue. But despite the tide turning against them, and the MANIMAL spending the final seven minutes of the half on the bench, the Golden Eagles held on. They kept the game within striking distance, and actually led at the under 4 media timeout. But Florida went on a 6-0 run over the final three minutes, to create a little separation. Cadougan had a strong drive at the end of the half that resulted in a foul and 2 free throws. But naturally, with the night Junior had, he missed both throws and squandered a chance to cut into the lead before the break.
Coming into the second half, there may have been a certain degree of cautious optimism. Marquette had not played well. Crowder sat for eight minutes of the half, yet they were only down by six. Comebacks were common place this year, and coming back from six down wouldn't even be enough to make the "top 10 deficits overcome" list. But the optimism quickly faded. The Gators extended their advantage to 12 points by the 14 minute mark of the second half, and it was obvious that MU was in deep, deep trouble.
With about eight minutes to go everyone knew that if there were to be any heroics, they needed to start happening pronto. Two free throws by Davante Gardner and a jumper by Crowder got MU back within 8 of the lead. A stop on the defensive end gave them the ball with a chance to put some real pressure on the Gators. Crowder got as good a look at a 3-pointer that one could ask for, but as was the case all night, it spun all the way around the rim and then out. That began as string of possessions that all resulted in missed 3-pointers for Marquette. Florida extended the lead back to 12, and even the most optimistic of MU fans knew that we were now praying for a miracle.
The miracle never came. Marquette was able to get back within 6 with 1:30 to play. But the Gators made their throws, and never let the door swing open any further. And one of the most memorable seasons in the last decade came to an abrupt halt.
A few more notes, and the end of season awards, after the jump.
Mr. K's Often Imitated, Never Duplicated Takes and Observations:
- Rubie wanted me to title this piece Blame Canada, because, in his opinion, the entirety of this loss falls on the shoulders of Junior Cadougan. [Rubie sez: Not the entirety. That's far too harsh. Like 86%.] I'm not ready to go that far, but there's no concealing the fact that Junior had a rather abysmal game at a rather unfortunate time. Zero points on 0-5 shooting, 4 fouls (in the first 21 minutes of the game), 3 turnovers (which seems low, given how he played), and an offense that looked completely out of sync all night are all indicators of an evening that was all kinds of awful.
- The shooting was just not there: just 30% from the floor and 28% from distance isn't going to win you many games, especially not NCAA Tournament games. It's too bad, because it's not like UF shot the lights out either. Even a mediocre shooting performance would've probably been enough to win this game.
- I don't know if the Golden Eagles thought they were on the Oregon Trail Thursday or what, but they were doing some serious settling. The fade-away deep deuce became an all too common occurrence and it was reflected in the shooting percentages.
- At one point on the game thread, someone asked: "Where the hell is DJO?" They were asking because they thought he was on the bench late in the game. But the question really could be applied to the game as a whole -- "Really, where the hell was DJO?" The Florida defense did a good job of bottling him up most of the night. I kept hoping that there was going to be one DJO hot streak. That may have been enough to tilt the game in MU's favor. It never came.
- Turnovers: Florida 11, Marquette 9. I had to double check that number because it sure felt like there were more.
- The Florida player that scared me the most coming in was Bradley Beal. His line: 21 points, on 8-10 shooting, 3-5 from three. Those fears were well founded.
- I say it all the time: it's one thing to lose when you play well, but the other team just plays better. It's another thing entirely when you play a team that isn't playing that well, but you lose because you play like shit. Thursday night falls into that latter category. That's a really rough way to have a season, and the careers of two special MU players, come to a close.
- Just really, really disappointing, you guys. Not sure what else to say.
The last awards of 2011-'12:
Jae Crowder Player of the Game: Neither of the two seniors had a great game. Both shot 5-15 from the field, and they combined to go 3-14 from distance. But they were the reason we even had a prayer at coming back in this game. And as far as that goes, they are the reason we were playing in this game to begin with. So for the final time, your joint POTG are Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Thanks for everything, boys.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: When all seemed lost, Todd Mayo helped keep the dream flickering for just a few more minutes. Down 11 with four minutes left, Mayo made a lay-up on a strong drive to the rim. He then forced a turnover with an amazing dive for the loose ball, to secure the possession. Then, he came out of that timeout and buried a triple to cut the lead back to 6. For that late effort, Todd gets the nod today.
Davante "Big Smooth" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: This is really tough. I don't really recall any one play being particularly awesome. The whole game was just kind of disjointed. The transition opportunities and excellent interior passing that usually lead to our Smooth Play nominees just weren't present in this game. I'm open to suggestions, if anyone has them.
Up Next: Baseball Season. See you all in October for Marquette Madness.