WASHINGTON, D.C. — All you need to know about this Marquette team can be summed up in a two minute stretch that happened early in the second half of the No. 3 seed Golden Eagle’s 71-61 win over No. 2 seed Miami in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.
The Hurricanes were a no-show, digging themselves a 14-5 hole in the first five minutes and finding themselves down 29-16 at the half. By the time Jim Larranaga called his first timeout of the second half with 14:47 left in the game, Miami was down 41-23 and you had to wonder if the Hurricanes were ever going to show up.
Well, they did, if only briefly.
Miami came out of that timeout and star point guard Shane Larkin drew a foul, which sent us to another TV timeout. That’s seven minutes of commercials broken up by 16 seconds of game time, enough to knock any team out of a rhythm. Larkin hit both free throws, and Miami immediately threw a press on. They forced a turnover by Trent Lockett immediately, which led to a layup for Durand Scott. Marquette wasn’t rattled, however, and calmly broke the press on their next possession, working the ball inside to Davante Gardner for a layup. Miami answered with a three, cutting the lead to 13 and finally putting together some kind of momentum offensively.
But Junior Cadougan broke Miami’s press singlehandedly on the next possession, going the length of the court for a layup. After another missed jumper from Kenny Kadji, Marquette worked the shot clock, getting a 15 foot jumper from Vander Blue to put them back up 17 with 12:17 left. That lead eventually grew to 21 points, and Miami wouldn’t get that close again until there was less than a minute left on the clock.
The Golden Eagles didn’t get rattled by that press. They weren’t affected by the fact that the first time they really got into a rhythm, they were forced to spend seven minutes sitting on the bench while the NCAA raked in TV’s advertising dollars. Not in the slightest. They calmly broke the press, then did it again, and then slowly but surely extended their lead.
“Buzz’s favorite quote is ‘ring the bell everyday’,” senior forward Jamil Wilson said after the game. What’s that mean? “Getting up and showing up every time.”
“In this part of the season, in March, crucial possessions can come back and haunt you. So we just define toughness by being there every possession.”
And for 40 minutes, Marquette did just that. Miami’s game-plan isn’t a secret. So much of what they do offensively runs through Larkin and his ability to use ball-screens from Miami’s big men to create. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Marquette’s focus on the defensive end of the floor was getting the ball out of Larkin’s hands. Every time Miami tried to set him a ball-screen, Marquette trapped him. If they were going to get beat, they were going to get beat by Trey McKinney Jones and Kenny Kadji and Rion Brown hitting threes, not by Larkin coming off of a ball-screen.
Marquette also took advantage of their size inside. With Reggie Johnson physically and Julian Gamble mentally back in Miami — Gamble finished with six points and six boards, the majority of which came when Miami was already down by 20 — Gardner and Chris Otule had their way in the paint, while Trent Lockett swooped in and finished with 11 boards, including one swooping, highlight-reel tip-dunk in traffic. All told, Marquette scored 40 of their 71 points in the paint.
“All of the things that we wanted to do — keep them out of the paint with their drives, keep them off the offensive boards, find the open man on our end and make some threes — we weren’t able to do any of those things,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said.
It’s only fitting that Buzz Williams finally broke his Sweet 16 curse with this group of cast-offs and misfits. Perhaps no team in his tenure in Milwaukee has better personified Marquette basketball than this group.
There aren’t any pros on this roster unless Vander Blue develops three-point range. Trent Lockett is a transfer from Arizona State. Jamil Wilson couldn’t crack the rotation at Oregon. Chris Otule called himself terrible coming out of high school. Davante Gardner is a 6-foot-7, 300 lb center that committed to Marquette over South Florida.
Everyone on this Marquette team has a chip on their shoulder. Everyone of them has been overlooked and underrecruited. Everyone of them, including their head coach, has gotten to where they are through grit and determination and effort. They are the epitome of an underdog.
Are they talented? Compared to me, yes. Compared to Indiana? Not as much.
That’s what they want to hear. That’s what they feed off of. Pick them to lose in the opening round? Well, that just means the Golden Eagles are going to get that many more floor burns and fill up the puke buckets in practice just that much more.
“If you just look at our roster, you wouldn’t think we’re an Elite 8 team,” Blue said. “That fuels our fire. There’s nothing we can do about that. When we step on the court, if you don’t give us respect, we’re going to earn it. Sooner or later, you’ve gotta give credit where credit is due.”
“We want to keep being the hunter. We don’t want to be the hunted.”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.