Lexington, KY – Coming off a thrilling victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the third-seed Marquette Golden Eagles will face the sixth-seed Butler Bulldogs in a regular season rematch during third-round action of the East Regional at Rupp Arena.
These teams, which will become conference foes next year as part of the newly constructed Big East, met back in November during the Maui Invitational. Butler managed to capture the 72-71 victory in dramatic fashion in that meeting, as Rotnei Clarke nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Bulldogs to the win. Butler has won each of the last three matchups with Marquette, but still trails the all-time series, 14-12.
Against one of the trendier upset picks in the second round, Butler remained focused and knocked off 11th-seed Bucknell, 68-56, on Thursday. The Bulldogs were once the underdog, but after back-to-back appearances in the national title game in 2010 and 2011 they have become regulars in the Big Dance. Butler has won five of its last six games and has not let an opponent score more than 70 points since the middle of February. Butler also collected a win against the East Region's No. 1 seed when it stunned Indiana, 88-86, in December.
The Golden Eagles were in danger of being on the wrong end of an upset on Thursday but Vander Blue didn't let that happen. The junior guard got to the rim for a layup with a second remaining to lift Marquette to a 59-58 win over 14th-seed Davidson which had controlled most of the contest. The win was the fifth in the last six games for the Golden Eagles who were a bit of surprise by earning a share of the Big East regular-season title this year. This is the eighth straight season the Golden Eagles have made the Big Dance and they are looking to make it three straight trips to the Sweet 16.
Butler's work on the defensive end of the floor was tremendous in the victory over Bucknell. The Bulldogs hounded Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala, who averaged better than 19 points per game this season, holding him to just nine points on 4-of-17 shooting. Andrew Smith (14 points, 16 rebounds) had the responsibility of defending Muscala most of the game and more than held his own.
Clarke (16.7 ppg), the Bulldogs' leading scorer, didn't get into a rhythm until the second half but still managed to score a game-high 17 points with 13 of those coming in the final 20 minutes. Clarke played for three years at Arkansas before transferring to Butler and is making his first run in the NCAA Tournament. Smith (11.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) has been solid in the frontcourt all season but had perhaps his most impressive performance on Thursday. Roosevelt Jones (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) is a versatile performer that kept the ship steady for the Bulldogs in the first half when Clarke was struggling.
The Golden Eagles couldn't seem to buy a bucket from 3-point range against Davidson until the final two minutes. After hitting just 1-of-12 from long range the Golden Eagles hit a trio of shots from beyond the arc to pull within a point with 11 seconds left. Marquette then went to a full-court press and forced a turnover when De'Mon Brooks threw a cross-court pass out of bounds. Blue got the ball in his hands with six seconds left and drove right to the rim for the game-winning layup.
It was the second time in the last few weeks that Blue (14.4 ppg) has come up with a big layup in crunch time as he also finished off St. John's in overtime on a last-second drive earlier this month. The 6-foot-4 guard didn't have the touch against Davidson, netting just 5-of-15 shots from the floor, but still finished with a team-high 16 points. Normally Davante Gardner (11.4 ppg) is the spark off the bench for the Golden Eagles, but on Thursday it was Jamil Wilson (9.6 ppg) that made the big plays as a reserve. The 6-foot-7 forward drained two big 3-pointers in the final minutes and finished with 14 points for his sixth straight game in double figures.