By now I'm sure you've heard that YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles will be heading to Washington DC, and their 3rd consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance, after knocking off Butler in the most exciting game of the 2013 NCAA Tournament thus far. Much like the teams' first match-up, back in November in Maui, this one was a heart stopper.
The opening minutes of the game looked nothing like the game against Davidson. Both teams were pushing the tempo. And, more importantly, both teams were making shots. After not being able to make a jumper until the final minute in their first round game, MU came out shooting in the early going. Jamil Wilson got it started with a fancy turnaround jumper on the baseline and then a pretty 3-pointer. Trent Lockett followed suit with a triple of his own. Butler was perfectly fine with the tempo of the game, and had no trouble matching Marquette's hot start. Through the first 12 minutes it was a back and forth game.
The final 8 minutes of the half was the Rotnei Clarke show. The hero of the Maui meeting was on FIRE in the first half. He had Golden Eagles chasing him through a gauntlet of screens that allowed him plenty of space to bomb away from long range. And once he had defenders running at him, he put the ball on the deck and scored around the rim. Clarke scored 18 first half points, and led the charge that put the Bulldogs up 8 at the break.
Consensus amongst the faithful was that Marquette was going to need better defense, more Davante Gardner, and lots of Vander Blue to mount the comeback. They got all three.
The Golden Eagles attacked the basket relentlessly in the second half. They ratcheted up the defensive intensity, holding Rotnei Clarke scoreless for the last 15 minutes of the game. And Vander Blue played like an All-American. With less than 8 minutes to play, and Marquette still down 2, Blue converted a breakout lay-up off of a steal and pretty feed from Jamil. Tie game. On the very next Butler possession, Van jumped into the passing lane and took the ball back all the way for an uncontested dunk. Marquette had the lead for the first time since the 11 minute mark in the first half.
Butler was game, though. They took the punch and came right back. They retook the lead, and then extended it to 3 with 1:39 to play. But there was that man again. Off of a Cadougan drive and kick, Vander buried a 3 from the corner to tie the game. Butler attempted to answer with an Andrew Smith lay-up, but he was rejected Jamil Wilson - who was then fouled trying to corral the rebound and calmly sank both of his free throws. MU was back up by 2 with 47 seconds left. Hearts were beating out of chests of Marquette fans everywhere.
After MU was unable to secure a defensive rebound on a free throw, Rotnei had a shot at duplicating his Hawaiian heroics but was wide left. Gardner went to the other end and drained two throws. It seemed this one was all but over. But if you've been with us all year, you know that this team isn't really into making things that easy. A ghastly turnover on an inbounds pass, gave the Butler one more chance with 2.4 seconds left. Fortunately, the Marquette defense forced the pass to go to someone other than Clarke, and the last second, desperation heave went begging. Marquette is headed to DC. This amazing ride will continue for another game.
- I'm not enough of a basketball expert to be able to break down exactly what MU did differently on defense in the second half. I do know that the pressure and intensity was turned up several notches. And I also know that after hitting a 30-footer with 15 minutes to play, Rotnei Clarke was not heard from again. Buzz didn't want to give away any state secrets in his postgame presser, either. So I guess we'll just have to wait until the season is over to hear a full explanation. I'm in no rush. I'm cool with waiting until April 2nd, if necessary.
- Junior Cadougan showed up in the second half. He made the first bucket of the half and had a few other nice finishes at the rim down the stretch. He and Derrick Wilson also spent a lot of time glued to Clarke throughout the second half.
- Speaking of Derrick, Coach said that he's the reason that MU is still playing this season. I don't know about all that, but I can sort of see where he's going with that line of thinking. The sophomore PG expended a lot of energy defensively, that Cadougan didn't have to. Thus Junior had more in the tank to help the team finish down the stretch. At least I think that's where he was going with that.
- Speaking of Wilsons, and people who are the reason that MU is moving on in the Tournament, how about Jamil Wilson. His elevated play has been instrumental in this team's success. He finished this game with 13 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and one GIGANTIC blocked shot. With a line like that, I can forgive the 4 turnovers. He also was huge from the free throw line, going 4-4 and hitting them when the game was in the balance.
- Speaking of free throws, that was the difference maker for the good guys in this one. Butler made 1 more FG, 5 more 3pt FGs, but still came up short. That's because Marquette dominated from the charity stripe. They hit 23 of 27 (85%), while Butler hit just 13 of 19 (68%). Vander was 8-8, Trent Lockett was 4-4 and Davante was 6-8. That had to make Coach Buzz happy.
- I could get used to hating these guys from Butler. If the games are going to be like this, and the announcers are going to slurp their head coach like they did during this game ("Coach Stevens is so poised, shows no emotion on the sidelines" was the mantra last night. Yup, so poised, except when he isn't.), then I will have no problem generating some ill will towards them in the new conference.
Vander Blue Grown Ass Man of the NCAA Tournament: I don't know what I can say that hasn't already been said about Van's performance. The man scored 29 points, on 9-15 shooting, 3-4 from distance, 8-8 from the stripe, 2 rebounds, and 4 steals - all of which I think led to MU points. I just hope his back isn't too sore from carrying us, cuz we got more games to play baby!
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Did you realize that Trent Lockett scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in this game? Neither did I. He also chipped in 2 boards, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Glue guy. Winning plays.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smooth Play of the Game: As much as I loved the big fella getting out and finishing that lay-up on the break, I have to give the "Smoovie" to Vander's late triple from the corner. That was the shot that prevented this from being one of those "fought so hard to come back, but ran out of gas late" games. That was the shot that capped his herculean effort.
Up Next: You've got 4 days to let your heart rate return to normal. The cardiac arrest tour will be heading to the regional semifinals, in the nation's capital, next Thursday. There they'll face the winner of #2 Miami and #7 Illinois. Time is still TBD.