Marquette uses strong finishes to return to Sweet Sixteen

Photo by Danny Alfonzo/
Photo by Danny Alfonzo/

Marquette got off to atrocious starts in the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament, but the Golden Eagles left Lexington, Ky. with their third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

According to coach Buzz Williams, his team’s second-half resiliency made the difference in both contests.

“We could have easily (been) beaten by Davidson, been beaten tonight,” Williams said after Saturday’s game. “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.”

Against Davidson and Butler, Williams’ squad had to rally for unforgettable, last-second finishes to survive and advance. The Golden Eagles narrowly avoided becoming the 18th No. 3 seed to lose to a No. 14 seed on Thursday, and they came back again to defeat sixth-seeded Butler on Saturday.

Marquette shot just 27.6 percent and turned the ball over six times in the first half of the Davidson game. Vander Blue and Jamil Wilson went a combined one for 11 from the field, and the Golden Eagles were lucky to face a 25-23 halftime deficit.

Down by nine with 6:26 to play, Blue and Wilson scored Marquette’s final 17 points to lead the Golden Eagles back.

Marquette faced an eight-point deficit at halftime against the Bulldogs. This time, Marquette had shot a measly 25.9 percent from the field and turned the ball over eight times.

Blue and Wilson started stronger, however, with 15 combined points, and carried that momentum into the second half. Blue would finish with 29 to lead all scorers, and Wilson would add 13.

“I got in the groove early in the second half, so I was able to get it going with my teammates finding me and taking shots I take every day,” Blue said. “Multiple times today we could have (given) up and lost the game. (There’s) just something about this group. We’re just relentless, and we just want to win, and we’re not ready to go home yet.”

Junior Cadougan broke out in the second half of Saturday’s game with nine points after failing to score in the first. The senior guard said his coach called him out, and asked him to play to the level of his experience.

“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.”

With both games ending in nail-biting fashion, Williams played his second half strategic adjustments close to the vest. When Marquette has struggled, games have usually been decided in the final possessions. Williams felt his team’s experience in tight games prepared it for Thursday’s and Saturday’s wins.

“If you look at our box scores over the last eight games, six of them have been decided by one possession or less, and we’re 6-2,” Williams said. “So, I’m not a genius. I don’t want to be a genius. I don’t want to be Mr. Tactician. I don’t want our program known in that regard.

“I don’t want to be tactical; I want to be tough. But in our toughness, that’s what’s missed. Within that toughness, there’s a discipline that is required to have that toughness.”