There aren’t two teams in the country that have had more games in recent memory come down to some kind of ridiculous finish. And given that the first two times these teams met, Rotnei Clarke hit a running 25-footer over two Marquette defenders, it only made sense that the ending of Friday’s matchup between the No. 3 seed Golden Eagles and the No. 6 seed Bulldogs left everyone surprised.
After Davante Gardner gifted Butler with a missed free throw up three with 22 seconds left, the Bulldogs got another present from Marquette’s big fella when he failed to corral a rebound of a missed Roosevelt Jones free throw. Butler, however, couldn’t find a way to get a good look at the rim, as Rotnei Clarke settled for a deep three that hit nothing but air.
With the score 72-70, Butler fouled and Gardner, this time, hit both with 4.7 seconds left, but that set off the insanity.
First, Emerson Kampen made his first tournament appearance and threw a 90-foot strike to Andrew Smith that led to a goaltend. On the ensuing inbounds, Marquette threw the ball away, giving it back to Butler with 2.9 seconds left and the score 74-72.
This time, however, Butler Magic had worn off, as Marquette was able to stifle whatever it was that Brad Stevens drew up in the huddle. The Bulldogs had to settle for Smith shooting a stumbling, 25-footer prayer that bounced harmlessly off the back board as the Golden Eagles kept on dancing:
And that, perhaps, was the only truly surprising part of what was the most thrilling game of the NCAA tournament to date.
Butler — the ultimate Cinderella, the program that, perhaps more than any other team in the country, defines March Madness — lost a game in the final seconds because they couldn’t execute. Because the last bit of luck, the game-deciding moment of brilliance, turned into their center stumbling and bumbling 30 feet from the rim.
These are the games that Butler wins.
Yet they are the ones heading home.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.