With precision and poise, Marquette passed its test.
The Golden Eagles played their style of basketball, except for one part of the equation: The game wasn’t close.
Marquette fans likely didn’t know what to do with themselves as they watched their team hold a 19-point lead at the final media timeout. A barrage of late 3-pointers from Miami probably let a bit of doubt creep into their minds because close games are all the Golden Eagles know.
But all Miami did late was make the final score not indicative of the thorough dominance Marquette displayed against the ACC’s best team. It will go down as a 71-61 victory — the first game the Golden Eagles have played in decided by double digits since Feb. 19 — but the game was never that close.
“It’s fantastic,” Marquette forward Jamil Wilson told reporters. “It feels good not to have to worry about are you going to lose on a last‑second shot or are you going to win on a last‑second shot. To have a cushion like that.
“These guys played with tremendous heart, and we did it all game. From start to finish we felt like we had to keep pushing, so we didn’t let up and they would get back in the game, and as you saw in the last two minutes, they were knocking them down. If we would have let up in the game, it could have easily gone the other way.”
For the past two years, the Golden Eagles tripped up in the Sweet 16, but now Marquette will play in its seventh Elite Eight in school history and its first since 2003 when it faces conference foe Syracuse on Saturday in Washington, D.C.
The Orange ended a potential matchup between former Marquette coach Tom Crean and the Golden Eagles by taking down Indiana, 61-50, on Thursday night. It would have been a nightmare and a dream mixed into the same game for Marquette fans.
A loss to Crean would have been unimaginably painful, and beating him would have been the ultimate revenge for a fan base that still hasn’t gotten over his departure back in 2008.
It’s time to forget Crean because Marquette has a coaching star on its bench in Buzz Williams. He’ll never admit it, but Williams is becoming one of the best in the country. Like his act or not, Williams can flat out coach.
He prepared an excellent game plan for the Hurricanes, and his players executed it to perfection. Everything Miami wanted to do to Marquette, it couldn’t do. The Golden Eagles were much more prepared, and it showed.
Marquette took just six 3-pointers Thursday night. Unless the 3s come in desperation mode as they did against Davidson in the Round of 64, that’s the exact number of 3-pointers the worst 3-point shooting team in the NCAA tournament should attempt.
The Golden Eagles attacked instead and had 40 points in the paint. On the other side of things, Miami kept shooting from the outside. The Hurricanes attempted 26 3-pointers and made eight. Most of those eight came when the game was already decided.
“We had a great week of preparation,” Wilson told reporters. “At the beginning of the week we went over all their things, we continued to go over reps and guys bought in.”
What’s astonishing is this might be Williams’ least talented team since taking over the job from Crean. Most of the pundits will take that notion as this team doesn’t have any talent, but that’s simply not true.
It’s about time this Marquette team gets the credit it deserves. These Golden Eagles can play. They have proven it by winning a share of the Big East title and again in the NCAA tournament.
Williams has done an unbelievable job at getting his team to truly believe that nobody thinks it is any good — even himself. It all started when the Golden Eagles were picked to finish seventh in the Big East. They’ve bought into the underdog role ever since.
And though they were the No. 3 in the East Regional and Miami was the No. 2 seed, the word upset is being tossed around like Marquette was Florida Gulf Coast.
“We’re used to people not giving us credit, saying we were no good,” Marquette guard Vander Blue told reporters. “If you were to look at our roster, no one would expect us to be a Elite Eight team, our guys don’t get into that much, but it’s good to know if you step on to the court, if you don’t give us respect, we’re going to earn it, as we work harder than, I feel, anybody in the country.
“We don’t have the names of North Carolina, Syracuse or Georgetown, but we are still here, we show up every single day, and no matter how anybody feels about, when you step in between those lines we’re all equal and we feel like we can take on anybody. So everybody doubting us is normal to us, and I feel like they should keep doing it, because obviously it’s helping us, we want to keep being the hunters, we don’t want to be the hunted. We want to go after people, we don’t want people going after us.”
When ESPN.com re-ranked the Sweet 16 teams earlier this week, Marquette was 16th. Ranked higher the Golden Eagles were Cinderellas Florida Gulf Coast and LaSalle. Remember, this is still the team that won a share of the Big East title.
And now it’s a team that’s 40 minutes away from a trip to the Final Four. As for where Marquette will be ranked if the Elite Eight is re-ranked?
“We will be dead last when we wake up on Saturday,” Williams quipped. “I guess we will be eight out of eight.”