Marquette dodged a bullet from Butler this time around, and escaped with a 74-72 victory in an NCAA Tournament thriller Saturday night in Rupp Arena.
Back in November, Butler’s Rotnei Clarke hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Marquette 72-71 in the Maui Invitational in Hawaii.
An eerily similar scenario unfolded in the final minute of their rematch when Marquette led 72-70 with 14.7 seconds left, and Clarke had a shot to put Butler ahead.
Clarke couldn’t find his Maui magic touch, though. He air-balled a three-point try with five seconds to go.
Marquette still wasn’t out of the woods, though.
After Davante Gardner hit two free throws with 4.7 seconds left to put the Golden Eagles up 74-70, Butler got a quick basket when Andrew Smith scored on a goal-tend call at :03.2.
Marquette then threw away the inbound pass, giving the Bulldogs one last chance with :02.4 left.
It turned out to be not much of a chance.
Clarke couldn’t get open, and Smith wound up flinging up an awkward three-point try from the top of the key that didn’t come close. Marquette, which needed a miracle finish to beat Davidson 59-58 on Thursday, had survived and advanced again.
The Golden Eagles move on to the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row. They’ll play either Miami or Illinois in the East Regional in Washington D.C. next weekend.
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“We’re not good enough to blow anybody out,” Coach Buzz Williams said. “And we’re just good enough to get blown out. But if we can turn it into a fight and make it ugly, that probably trends toward helping us the most.”
Vander Blue came up big for the Golden Eagles in Big Blue country.
The 6-foot-4 junior had 29 points, including a three-pointer from the right corner that tied it 69-69 with 1:20 left.
“I got in a groove early in second half,” Blue said. “It was just big. Nobody was ready to go home yet.
“There’s something about this group that’s just relentless.”
Blue had 21 against Butler in their first meeting, so he made an impression on Bulldogs Coach Brad Stevens.
“He’s had 50 in two games against us, and that’s pretty unique,” Stevens said. “Not many guys have done that against us.”
Trent Lockett and Jamil Wilson had 13 points each for Marquette.
Wilson said the closing minute was “like a whole new 20 minutes. There were fouls, air balls, a turnover . . . it took forever. “But that’s how you want it to be. That’s what you dream of when you’re a kid.”
The Golden Eagles, who shot 26 percent in the first half, shot 59 percent (16 of 27) in the second half.
“I thought the character, toughness and resiliency our guys showed is maybe unlike any team I’ve been around,” Wllliams said.
Clarke carried Butler through the first 25 minutes.The 6-foot senior had 18 points in the first half, and added two more threes early in the second half. But he didn’t score over the last 15 minutes as Marquette hounded him all over the floor.
“We did a great job in the second half wearing him down,” Golden Eagles senior Junior Cadougan said.
Clarke finished with 24 points, including five threes.
Smith, a 6-10 senior, had 17 points and eight rebounds.
Marquette’s players said they had grown weary of seeing an ESPN commercial featuring Clarke’s game-winning shot in Hawaii.
“But we’d much rather get a win this time of year than back in Maui,” Lockett said.