Three Hits: Davidson falls in heartbreaker

Leave it to Bob McKillop’s 14th-seeded Davidson team to inject the initial dose of madness into the NCAA tournament, as his Wildcats were the best team on the floor for 39 minutes Thursday before falling to the 3rd-seeded Marquette.

Sometimes March is cruel to Cinderella.

In the one-point loss to the Eagles — a 59-58 heartbreaker on a driving layup by Vander Blue with one second remaining — Davidson proved its mettle, but could not deliver the first major upset of the tourney.

Here are three observations from the tournament thriller:

1. Any way you slice it, this is should have been Davidson’s win.

Leading by as many as nine points in the closing minutes, it took a memorable Marquette comeback (and small collection of Davidson mistakes) to send the favored Big East squad through to the Round of 32.

The game will be remembered as much for the Wildcats’ crucial mishap — with less than seven seconds remaining and holding on to a one-point lead, the Wildcats threw a long pass out of bounds to give Marquette its game-winning opportunity — as Blue’s driving layup, but such are the breaks of the game. It’s not often a McKillop-coached squad makes such a critical error.

All told, though, it was a valiant effort from the Wildcats. This is not the Stephen Curry team of yesteryear in terms of talent, but McKillop’s team executed a solid game plan for all but one minute Thursday. That can be tough to swallow now, but is to be commended.

As Curry, now a member of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, tweeted out: “Sheeesh.”

2. Vander Blue can deliver in the clutch when asked. His team just has to make it there first.

For the large part of Thursday afternoon, Blue, the Eagles’ junior guard, was an inefficient commodity. Before his crunch time exploits, he was just 3 of 13 from the field for nine points, including just two assists and two turnovers.

However, with 1:33 remaining, Blue knocked down two free throws to make it a five-point game. After teammate Jamil Wilson followed that up with a 3-pointer, Blue followed suit with a triple of his own — making it a two-point game. Wilson’s second 3-pointer in the closing seconds made it a one-point game, and from there the rest was written through a turnover by De’Mon Brooks and Blue’s memorable left-handed drive.

Moving forward, Blue will have to be more efficient in coach Buzz Williams’ offense. He was utilized on more than 23 percent of the Eagles’ offensive possessions this season, and if the Big East 3-seed wants to continue to advance in this tournament it cannot rely on late-game miracles.

(Although, that would be quite fun for tourney viewers.)

3. Jake Cohen said goodbye in a fitting way.

The 6-foot-10 Davidson forward and two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year concludes his illustrious career with another strong outing to hang his hat on: 20 points on 8 of 18 shooting. His four-year run could eventually be commemorated in Davidson’s rafters after he finished in the top-10 in multiple school career stats: first in games started and blocks, sixth in points scored and ninth in rebounding.

Although he did not exactly fill up the stat sheet Thursday (one rebound, one assist, one block) he was the most effective scorer on the floor at times and, despite the loss (and the fact that he was the one defending Blue on the final possession), he will go out on a high note.