Published March 24, 2013
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Butler was doing the things against Marquette that usually turn out well for the Bulldogs.
They made outside shots, played good defense and made few mistakes. Most importantly, Butler had created a final opportunity to win a close game and seemed to have the right play designed to do it.
But the Bulldogs couldn't even get a good look, leaving them with 74-72 loss that knocked them from the NCAA tournament on Saturday night.
Andrew Smith took an off-balance 3 from up top that was way off, slamming into the backboard and setting off another Marquette celebration.
"We were trying to get a look for a 3," Butler guard Alex Barlow said of the final shot. "If that wasn't open, we had options off of that. Marquette did a great job guarding it and unfortunately Andrew was unable to make the shot."
Then again, a lot of things didn't go as planned in a game that seemed to be following the Bulldogs' plan for 20 minutes. A defense that held Marquette to just 7 of 27 shooting in the first half couldn't seem to stop the Golden Eagles after that, allowing 16 of 27 field goals that wiped out a 35-27 halftime lead.
"The difference in the game was the level of pressure they put on us in the second half and certainly the shots they made," Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said. "They had a few I didn't think were going in that bounced in."
And while Butler shot a solid 48 percent (13 of 27) after the break and 24 of 56 overall, it didn't get the looks it wanted at the right time. Rotnei Clarke was most affected by the shift, making just two 3-pointers in the second half after controlling the game with 18 in the first and three makes from beyond the arc.
Stevens' Bulldogs, who reached the championship game in 2010 and '11, won't make the second weekend this year.
"You can control some things, you can't control others," Stevens said. "We're going to go back and wish we controlled a few things little bit better. ... We talk about all the close wins ... but the only commercial I ever see is a close loss, Butler vs. Duke (in the 2010 championship).
"We've been here before, we've lived it. And we'll move on."
Marquette's Vander Blue took control of the game, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second half, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:25 left. The Golden Eagles survived some last-minute drama to reach the round of 16 for the third consecutive year.
"He's had 50 in two games on us," Stevens said. "That's pretty unique. Not many guys have gotten 50 in two games against Butler.
"He's just a hard guy to stop. ... His speed is a separator."
This could be the start of quite a rivalry. Next year, Butler joins the new Big East with Marquette.
Both teams succeeded to an extent in a fast-paced first 10 minutes, with Marquette moving the ball around to get the two-point baskets it thrives on. The movement worked so well for the Golden Eagles that Wilson — Thursday's other hero — and Lockett were open for 3-pointers, and made them.
Butler hit 3 of 17 from 3 in an opening win against Bucknell, but the Bulldogs found their range against Marquette. Clarke made three of Butler's seven 3-pointers in the first half.
Long shots came in handy since the Bulldogs struggled from elsewhere. They were 4 of 16 on 2-pointers.
Butler was still better than Marquette (7 of 27), which finished the first half frustrated by the Bulldogs' defense that contested everything near the basket. During one 40-second sequence before the break the Golden Eagles missed five straight shots including one from outside, sending them to the locker room trailing 35-27.
Blue's 3-pointer soon after the break was part of his 10 points during a 21-14 run that got Marquette within 49-48. He later scored consecutive baskets off turnovers to give the Golden Eagles a 60-58 with 7:07 left, their first lead since early in the game.