Marquette had the scouting report down cold. Take out Tu Holloway, and the Golden Eagles could take down Xavier.
"You have to want to take that challenge and take him out of his game," Marquette forward Jimmy Butler said. "Make it hard for him, make it uncomfortable."
Man, did they ever make the sensational scorer feel uneasy. Holloway, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, fell in a 40-minute shooting funk and rarely got an inch of room. That was enough to let Marquette squash Xavier’s bid for a fourth straight round of 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament with a 66-55 win Friday night.
Darius Johnson-Odom scored 19 points and Butler had 15 for the 11th-seeded Golden Eagles (21-14), who will play Indiana State or Syracuse on Sunday in the East regional.
The game ended with "We Are (clap, clap) Marquette!" booming through the arena.
The Golden Eagles, one of 11 Big East teams to make the field, emptied their bench and Johnson-Odom walked off the court smiling and pointing at all the Marquette fans who made the trip.
Coach Buzz Williams walked across the court for a wave to the fans yelling, "Go, Buzz!"
He stopped in front of the band, gave a satisfied nod as he looked into the stands and soaked in the moment.
"It was a deep, relaxing exhale to be able to go, thanks for coming," said Williams, his voice hoarse. "I’m glad we get to stay another couple of nights. Because I know that those people that got here, however they got here, they didn’t just come because we were 20-14 entering tonight’s game; they came because of what Marquette means to them."
Williams and the fans are moving on to the third round.
The Musketeers are going home.
The sixth-seeded Musketeers (24-8) and Michigan State were the only two programs to reach the round of 16 each of the last three tournaments.
Holloway missed his first seven shots and scored only five points. Only twice this season did he score fewer than 10 points in a game.
"I really can’t figure it out," he said, sniffling. "I guess I was just missing shots today."
Marquette led by 13 in the first half and pushed back a small Xavier spurt that sliced the lead to single digits. The Musketeers would chip the lead to eight or six points, but Marquette answered with big baskets to maintain the lead.
The Golden Eagles sensed they had frustrated Xavier — especially Holloway
Holloway, Xavier’s leading scorer at 20.2 points and a 43 percent shooter, was compared a day earlier to Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. He played not at all like his usual self, much less like two of the nation’s greatest scoring stars.
Holloway was 0 for 7 until he swished a 3-pointer at the 12:08 mark in the second half that, briefly, made it feel as though Xavier was poised to make a comeback.
Instead, it was merely a blip in what turned into a relatively easy win for the Golden Eagles. And it was Holloway’s only bucket of the game.
"It was tough for him to find open spots," coach Chris Mack said. "It was tough to find seams and creases to get to the rim. He took what the defense gave him. But, again, when they put two guys on you and force you to give the basketball up, it’s not wise to start taking ill-advised shots."
Andrew Taylor scored 16 points, Kenny Frease had 12 and Dante Jackson 10.
For the first 20 minutes, points were almost as rare as the hairs on Williams’ and Mack’s balding heads. Xavier didn’t crack double digits until Mark Lyons’ crashing layup made it 17-11 with 7:51 left in the first half.
The crowd was bored, the players restless. Holloway shook his head and mouthed "come on" after yet another miss.
Holloway was scoreless in the first half. Starting forward Jamel McLean was 0 for 5. The Musketeers missed all five 3s. It all added up to a 33-20 lead for Marquette.
Holloway missed an open 3-pointer in transition on the first possession of the second half. He threw his hands in the air as if to say, "What the heck?" Nothing was falling. It was that kind of night.
It got worse when Marquette’s Erik Williams stormed down and converted a three-point play for a 36-20 lead.
Even bad plays worked in Marquette’s favor.
Jae Crowder’s errant pass attempt into the post was picked off, but immediately botched. Johnson-Odom snagged the ball and buried a 3 for a 47-29 lead.
Johnson-Odom shot 4 of 6 on 3-pointers. Marquette followed 12-for-21 shooting (57 percent) in the first half with 50 percent shooting from the field in the second.
Keep that up Sunday and the Golden Eagles might find another reason to celebrate.