LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jamil Wilson simply put his head down and walked back to the Marquette bench. Junior Cadougan just shook his head.
The feeling the Golden Eagles experienced that November afternoon after Butler stunned them at the buzzer in the Maui Invitational is one they haven’t forgotten. And who could blame them?
Each time any one of them turns on ESPN to watch a college basketball game, they see Rotnei Clarke’s running, fallaway, 30-footer and ensuing celebration because it’s background of the commercial advertising the network’s Watch ESPN app.
Now Marquette gets another crack at Butler in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament Saturday night at Rupp Arena, and there’s little doubt the Golden Eagles would love to erase an ugly memory from their minds.
“You can never really get that game out of your mind,” Marquette junior forward Jamil Wilson said. “Every time you watch ESPN and there’s a game they always bring up that app and there’s Rotnei Clarke falling into the bench and hitting that shot.
“I never really forgot that all year. That was a frequent reminder.”
Up one with nine seconds left, Cadougan split a pair of free throws and gave Butler a chance to win it with a 3-pointer. Marquette point guard Derrick Wilson guarded Clarke tough, making him zig-zag up the court. Clarke was forced into throwing up a prayer of a shot as he was falling away and sunk it.
A stunned Marquette team didn’t know how to react. A win in its first big game of the season was thought to have been locked up. Instead, the Golden Eagles were knocked into the losers’ bracket of the Maui Invitational.
The Golden Eagles have moved on and had a fine season, but they haven’t gotten over the way that game ended.
“It’s not that we lost, it’s the way we lost,” junior guard Vander Blue said. “Him hitting a shot like that is devastating. It haunts teams for a while. We’ve just been waiting for a chance to get them back.”
That chance comes Saturday night with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Butler is certainly aware that it is going to face a team not just with the extra motivation that comes with the NCAA tournament but with something additional pushing it.
“It’s definitely going to be a dog fight,” Butler forward Kameron Woods said. “Last game, we shot one in from deep. We expect that’s going to be on their minds and they are going to come out as hungry and as ready to compete as we are.”
Wilson knows there was nothing more he could have done on the play. He guarded Clarke well, and the Butler guard made an incredible shot. And though it was painful and stung at the time, Wilson isn’t looking for revenge, per se. He’s focused on the bigger prize and a third straight trip to the Sweet 16.
“We just came here focused to play,” Wilson said. “The whole tournament is about winning. I think that’s what we are more focused on, not so much about revenge or it’s a time to get back at them. We came here and have to win.”
The meeting in Maui was the third game of the season for each team. A lot has happened since, and both teams have improved. Butler coach Brad Stevens and Marquette coach Buzz Williams are known for having better teams in March than November.
Stakes are certainly higher in Saturday’s rematch, and a trip to the Sweet 16 would obviously have more meaning to Marquette than any sort of pride taken from revenge. But advancing in the NCAA tournament over Butler — a team joining the revamped Big East next season — will at least allow the Golden Eagles to smile if that dreaded commercial pops up again.
“I can definitely live with it and say that we’re still dancing, as people like to say,” Jamil Wilson said. “And then I can watch ESPN again and not have to worry about dreading that shot anymore. Everything happens for a reason, I’m looking forward to the game.”