Blue leads MU back to the Sweet Sixteen

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Vander Blue put on a show again with 29 points to lead Marquette to its third straight Sweet Sixteen appearance.

The Golden Eagles rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat the Butler Bulldogs 74-72 in a thrilling finish that came right down to the final seconds.

“This is big,” Blue said. “I know everybody on our team, we weren’t ready to go home.”

Butler took its largest lead (nine points) on Rotnei Clarke’s fourth three-pointer with 18:17 to play.

Marquette then went on a 28-17 run which Blue capped off with a steal and dunk to give the Golden Eagles their first lead of the half with 7:07 left.

The teams swapped the lead for the next six minutes with furious back-and-forth play.

Andrew Smith knocked down a pair of free throws to give Butler a three-point advantage with 1:39 on the clock. Blue answered with a three-pointer from the corner to tie it up.

“I rose up, saw my man being flat,” Blue said. “I rose up and shot it with no conscience because I knew we needed (it).”

Alex Barlow missed a three on the ensuing possession, and Jamil Wilson knocked down two bonus free throws to give Marquette a 71-69 lead.

Smith turned it over, and Davante Gardner knocked down one of two free throws for a three-point lead. Wilson fouled Roosevelt Jones with 14 seconds left, and after making his first free throw, Butler rebounded his miss on the second.

Clarke got the ball and let loose on a three-pointer to potentially give Butler the lead, but he air-balled it short of the basket.

Gardner knocked down two more bonus free throws for a four-point Marquette lead, but Smith scored off the Butler inbound pass way down court to cut the deficit back to two. The shot was stopped in mid-flight by Wilson, but Smith got the goaltending call.

The Marquette inbound pass was deflected out of bounds by Wilson, giving Butler the ball with 2.4 on the clock.

Smith got the ball at the top of the key and threw up a desperate, contested shot that didn’t hit the rim. The final buzzer sounded, and Marquette survived.

After the win, coach Buzz Williams said he was “very thankful.”

“We could have easily (been) beaten by Davidson, been beaten tonight,” Williams said. “I thought that the character and the toughness and resiliency of our guys is maybe unlike any team I’ve ever been around, and I stand at attention in respect for who those kids are.”

Junior Cadougan picked up nine big points in the second half after failing to score in the first. Williams called him out at halftime, and Cadougan said it helped him respond.

“Coach chewed me out in the locker room in front of the team because he knows I’ve been here,” Cadougan said. “I came out with more poise in the second half, more concentration, and, you know, helped lead my team to victory.”

Clarke led Butler with 24 points but was held scoreless in the last 15 minutes. Smith added 17 and led the team in rebounds with eight.

Wilson and Trent Lockett each scored 13 points for the Golden Eagles, while Davante Gardner chipped in eight, including six from the charity stripe.

The win avenged Butler’s miraculous 72-71 victory over Marquette in the Maui Invitational, and Williams saw it as a fitting obstacle that his team overcame.

“You get the same test over and over,” Williams said. “Until you pass it, you’re going to keep getting the same test. And tonight in comparison to November the 19th, it was the same test, and we’re thankful that we passed it.”

Marquette will face the winner of tomorrow’s Illinois-Miami contest on either Thursday or Friday in Washington, D.C.