LEXINGTON, Ky. – A lot of people in Rupp Arena — especially the Davidson Wildcats — were asking the same question Thursday after Marquette’s improbable NCAA tournament win.
What just happened here?
Davidson — the best free-throw-shooting team in the nation — missed a critical one with 1:10 left that opened the door. Down six points, Marquette — the worst 3-point-shooting team in the tournament — then made three in a row.
And when the Golden Eagles got a gift of a turnover to give them hope with 7 seconds left, they knew exactly what play they were going to run.
Coming off a ball screen, Marquette’s Vander Blue got to the basket with ease and scored with 1 second left. He then intercepted the inbounds pass to complete a 59-58 victory and send third-seeded Marquette into the Round of 32 for the third straight year. The Golden Eagles (24-8) will face sixth-seeded Butler on Saturday.
“I’m not ready to go home,” Blue said. “I know our team wasn’t ready to go home. I just had to put the ball in the basket for us to win and do whatever it took.
“It was everybody contributing because we got down seven with (under) six minutes left and nobody panicked, everybody stayed hooked up. We kept doing what we do.”
During a season in which a game was canceled because the floor was too wet and a bat turned the BMO Harris Bradley Center into a scene out of a movie, Thursday afternoon gave Golden Eagles fans their most unlikely moments yet.
Before the 3-pointers rained down, a small section of Davidson fans in the upper deck even began a “We want Butler” chant. The Wildcats were about to do what Marquette has done all season long — beat a more talented team by limiting mistakes, hustling and executing with precision.
After the Golden Eagles used a 6-0 run to cut Davidson’s lead to 49-46 with 2:36 left, they committed three silly fouls in one minute. Davidson surged ahead, 53-46, with 1:49 to play. After a pair of Blue free throws, Juan Anderson fouled J.P. Kuhlman away from the basket. Kuhlman split the pair — something that would become crucial in the end.
That’s when things got nutty.
Jamil Wilson hit the first of Marquette’s NBA-range 3-pointers to cut the lead to 54-51 with 1:03 left. The Wildcats called timeout and answered with a beautifully designed play, with Jake Cohen finding De’Mon Brooks for an easy layup.
Blue then hit a crazy 3-pointer of his own, trimming the lead to 56-54 with 28 seconds left. Marquette fouled Cochran, and he hit both free throws. Then Wilson drilled another 3 from deep, making it a one-point game with 11 seconds left. Cohen inbounded the ball to Brooks, who tried to throw a home run pass to Cochran and run out the clock before Marquette could foul. The ball sailed over Cochran’s head and went out of bounds.
Officials had to huddle to review how much time was on the clock, eventually giving the Golden Eagles 6.7 seconds to win the game. The review was important because Marquette was out of timeouts, and Davidson coach Bob McKillop called the stop in play an “unfair advantage.”
Though Williams admitted the review gave his team a chance to breathe, he already knew what play he was going to call: the same one that gave the Golden Eagles a share of the conference championship at St. John’s less than two weeks ago.
McKillop told his team to switch on all screens, so when Davante Gardner set the screen, Cohen ended up on Blue. There was no help defense as Blue blew past Cohen for an uncontested layup.
“I believe this as a person, I believe this as a coach: It’s not what you have done, it’s what you have overcome,” Williams said. “And so me, for our program, for our team, it wasn’t about beating Davidson on a last-second shot. It’s about what we’ve overcome to even get to that point. I think that probably matters more than anything.”
Marquette has played so many close games in Williams’ five-year tenure that the Golden Eagles almost expect games to come down to the wire. And then to win them.
“No one really panicked,” Wilson said. “Everyone just kind of had a calm sense of themselves to get back in the game because we play four-minute situations in games every day in practice. Something like that wasn’t really new to us.”
And the final result wiped away an ugly 38 minutes that almost resulted in a shocking upset.
“I think (this win) is going to help us in further games,” Blue said. “If we do get into another close ballgame with any other team, we’ll know how to respond and handle it.
“But at the same time it just shows our team this is the NCAA tournament and nothing is coming easy and if you want to win, you got to take it. It’s all about that.”