Marquette junior guard Vander Blue scored a career-high 29 points as the No. 3 seed Golden Eagles squeaked out a 74-72 win over No. 6 seed Butler in the third round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Butler had a chance to tie or win the game with 2.9 seconds remaining, but senior center Andrew Smith could do nothing with an inbound pass and threw up a shot that barely hit the backboard as time expired.
Blue scored 19 of his 29 points in the second half to pace Marquette. Blue scored a previous career-high 21 points against Butler in the Maui Invitational contest between the squads.
“Not many guys have gotten 50 against Butler in two games,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “You know, he made big shots. Just a hard guy to stop.”
It was a disappointing end to Butler’s return to the NCAA tournament after playing in the College Basketball Invitational last season.
“It’s hard to (put a positive spin on the season) because the last game is a loss,” senior guard Rotnei Clarke said through tears. “Just make the most of it and try to stay positive.”
Clarke had a strong first 20 minutes against Marquette, tallying 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting. The Golden Eagles’ defense held the one-season Butler player to just six points in the second half, including a scoreless stretch through the last 15 minutes.
“We were trying to pressure him too much,” said senior guard Junior Cadougan. “In the second half, me and (sophomore guard Derrick) Wilson did a great job of contesting his shots and trying to wear him out.”
The first half saw back and forth action early on, before Butler was able to open a slightly larger advantage by the end of the half.
The Bulldogs were paced by seven 3-point baskets spread out amongst five players. Butler held Marquette to 25.9 percent shooting from the field and took a 35-27 lead into the locker room.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams said his team needed to go “all in” on shutting down Clarke in the second half.
“(You) see if those other guys can beat you,” Williams said. “If we could turn it into a fight and make it ugly, it probably trends toward us.”
Cadougan said he was the recipient of a verbal lashing from Williams at halftime. However, he said it helped the team down the stretch.
“Coach chewed me out in the locker room in front of the team because he knows I’ve been here,” Cadougan said. “I’ve been through it, and he knows that once he chews me out, I accept and build off that.”
The Golden Eagles slowly mounted a comeback over the course of the second half’s first 10 minutes. With seven and a half minutes remaining, a Blue layup tied the game at 58 and finally erased Butler’s advantage.
From there, the small factions of Butler and Marquette fans—sprinkled with Louisville fans from the previous game—saw the two squads trade baskets back and forth through the remainder of the contest.
Neither team would lead by more than four points the rest of the way.
One critical moment came with 3:31 remaining, when sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones had a layup waved off after another Butler player was ruled to have touched the rim.
Jones was also fouled and made one of two free throws to cut Marquette’s advantage to 64-63.
Down 66-65 with 2:56 remaining, Butler would score the next four points off a basket by sophomore forward Kameron Woods and two free throws by Smith.
Blue followed with perhaps his biggest shot of the game, draining a 3-point basket with 1:29 remaining to tie the game at 69 and send the Marquette section of the crowd into a frenzy.
“I got in the groove early in the second half,” Blue said. “I rose up and shot with no conscience because I knew we needed that.”
Marquette would score the next three points off free throws and held a 72-69 advantage with 22 seconds left.
Jones was fouled on the ensuing possession and hit one of two free throws to bring the score to 72-70.
Still down two on the next possession, Clarke took a 3-point shot and missed the rim.
It appeared the Golden Eagles had sealed the deal when junior forward Davante Gardner was fouled by Clarke and hit a pair of free throws, pushing Marquette to a 74-70 lead.
But senior center Emerson Kampen threw a home-run pass directly to Smith, who was rewarded with two points on a goaltending call. Marquette then threw away an inbound pass to give Butler one final chance, down 74-72 with 2.9 seconds left.
“I was pretty upset at myself,” Blue said of the failed inbound pass. “I think our team did a great job of executing at the end and making sure we got that stop.”
Stevens said the defensive formation Williams had the Golden Eagles in on the final possession may have confused the Bulldogs.
“A lot of times, they went zone-two man, and we had a couple of looks,” Stevens said. “The way that they aligned, they switched all their matchups so they put Gardner on Roosevelt and matched everybody else accordingly, and I think our guys mistook that for zone.”
Clarke finished with a team-high 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Smith was the only other Bulldog in double figures with 17 points, adding eight rebounds.
Senior guard Trent Lockett and junior forward Jamil Wilson both tallied 13 to support Blue’s 29.
It was the final game in a Butler uniform for Smith, Clarke, Kampen and senior guard Chase Stigall. All four saw action in the contest.
“Feeling pretty sick right now,” Woods said on Twitter after the game. “Our seniors deserved so much more from (the underclassmen).”
Marquette moves on to face the winner of today’s game between Miami and Illinois.
Williams—who said his wife is currently in a Lexington hospital—praised Stevens and the Bulldogs at the outset of the press conference. He added extra compliments for Clarke, whom he said is “like Pistol Pete” with the ball.
“When the ball is in his hands and he has crossed half court, he legitimately has a chance to make it no matter where he picks up the ball,” Williams said.
Butler finished the season with an overall record of 27-9, including an 11-5 mark in its only season in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The team will move, with most of Butler’s athletic teams, to the new Big East before the next academic year.
G Rotnei Clarke: 24 points, 3 assists, 8-of-17 shooting (5-of-12 3-point shooting)
C Andrew Smith: 17 points, 8 rebounds (game-high), 2 steals
F Roosevelt Jones: 8 points, 3 assists, 5 turnovers
F Erik Fromm: 6 points, 2 blocks
FG shooting: 42.9 percent (24-of-56)
3-pt shooting: 45.8 percent (11-of-24)
FT shooting: 68.4 percent (13-of-19)
G Vander Blue: 29 points (career-high), 4 steals, 9-of-15 shooting (8-of-8 free throws)
G Trent Lockett: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks
F Jamil Wilson: 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals
G Junior Cadougan: 9 points, 2 assists
FG shooting: 42.6 percent (23-of-54)
3-pt shooting: 41.7 percent (5-of-12)
FT shooting: 85.2 percent (23-of-27)