Upon first glance a game with a 62-53 final score wouldn’t appear to be all that entertaining. But the battle between 3-seed Marquette and 6-seed Murray State would rival just about any high-scoring contest.
The difference was the fact that Marquette was able to buckle down and get stops, closing the game on a 21-7 run to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
But unlike last season’s group that ran into North Carolina, Buzz Williams has a squad (and a path) that could very well earn a trip to New Orleans.
Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom once again led the way for Marquette, scoring 17 points apiece with Crowder posting another double-double with 13 rebounds.
Neither team shot well from the field or from three, but the Golden Eagles’ ability to get to the foul line (16 of 21) while also keeping the Racers out of their comfort zone offensively proved to be the difference.
The key for any team playing Murray State is to neutralize guards Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole, and with their athleticism and effort Marquette was able to do that.
Canaan made just four of his seventeen shots from the field in scoring 16 points and Poole wasn’t much better percentage-wise as he shot 3 of 13. As a team the Racers made 31% of their shots, which included a 4 of 21 afternoon from beyond the arc.
Murray State made just two field goals over the final 7:43, with a Jewuan Long layup giving the Racers a 46-41 lead.
Marquette called a timeout and ramped up the defensive intensity from that point forward, and it proved to be too much for the Racers to handle.
Junior Cadougan gave Marquette eight points and four assists (one turnover) while playing well defensively and Todd Mayo played well defensively in his time guarding Canaan. And Davante Gardner gave them 12 valuable minutes in spite of dealing with a knee that’s given him trouble more much of the last three months.
The Golden Eagles take their cue from their leaders: Coach Williams, Crowder and Johnson-Odom, who provide the toughness that the program relies on. And that’s why Marquette can return to the site of their most recent Final Four appearance.