WASHINGTON – Buzz Williams has never been this far in the NCAA tournament before, so it might take a while for him to deal with it.
The Marquette coach was just as irritable in victory as he might have been in defeat Thursday night after his Golden Eagles beat Miami 71-61 to put the school in the Elite Eight for the first time in a decade.
Williams relished the Golden Eagles' underdog status after come-from-behind wins in the subregional. But this was a dominant win over the champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, so why the dour demeanor?
"That's a good question," he answered.
Williams then spoke of the pride and love he has in his players, how they've matured and all the works his staff does. Then the coach who doggedly worked his way up from his days as a student assistant at Navarro College got to the point.
"Because of my path to this point, I do have an edge," he said. "And I probably need to have better wisdom in how I handle that edge. But it's really delicate, because our edge is why we win."
"I'm really not good postgame," he added. "Actually, I'm really not good at all day of the game to you (reporters), my wife, my kids, because I do want to win, and I don't want to win for the outcome, I want to make sure that I and our team learn the lessons from what the day is going to give us."
Williams and the third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-8) will face No. 4 seed Syracuse in the East Regional final on Saturday, aiming for a spot in the Final Foul for the first time since the 2003 team lead by Dwyane Wade.
Marquette was knocked out in the round of 16 the past two years, and the team appeared headed for an earlier exit this year before pulling off the rallies that beat Davidson by one point and Butler by two.
This game was nothing like that. The Golden Eagles were never threatened after taking a double-digit lead in the first half. It's a good thing Vander Blue made his buzzer-beater before halftime. This time, Marquette didn't need one at the end of the game.
"It's fantastic. It feels good not to have to worry about, are you going to lose on a last-second shot or are you going to win on a last-second shot?" said Jamil Wilson, who had 16 points and eight rebounds. "To have a cushion like that, these guys played with tremendous heart, and we did it all game."
It was simple to decipher how the game was won. Marquette could shoot; Miami couldn't. The Hurricanes (29-7) had sentiment on their side, returning to the arena where coach Jim Larranaga led mid-major George Mason to the Final Four seven years ago, but they made only 35 percent of their field goals and missed 18 of 26 3-pointers.
"You ever have days where you're just out of sync or things just don't run along smoothly?" Larranaga said. "Almost like our trip over here. Our hotel is a mile and a half, it took us 45 minutes to get here. We had to go on nine different streets, weaving our way in and out of traffic and everything. And that's the way it seemed on the court. We were trying to find our way and never could. Never could get in rhythm offensively, and defensively. I don't think we communicated like we have been doing all season long."
Shane Larkin scored 14 points to lead the No. 2 seed Hurricanes, whose NCAA run to the round of 16 matched the best in school history.
"I think what we did this year was lay a foundation of what the program could be like," Larranaga said. "We're not anywhere near where I would like to be."
Marquette, meanwhile, shot 54 percent, a stark turnaround from its 38 percent rate from the first two games in the tournament. Davante Gardner added 14 points, with 12 coming in the second half when the Golden Eagles were comfortably ahead.
Blue finished with 14 points. He wasn't Marquette's leading scorer, but his offensive and defensive energy pushed the Golden Eagles to a big lead early.
He got going when he picked off a pass and converted the steal into a one-handed jam to give Marquette an 8-4 lead. His running one-hander made it 12-4. He and Junior Cadougan forced a steal, getting Larkin to commit his second foul in the process.
Blue ended the half with an exclamation point, hitting the step-back 15-footer just before the horn to give Marquette a 29-16 lead at the break. He drained the shot, strutted backward downcourt, cocked his right arm and gave Wilson a chest bump.
"We're so used to people not giving us credit. ... That fuels our fire," Blue said.
The Hurricanes couldn't sink anything. They started 2 for 12, including 0 for 6 from 3-point range, and Larkin's 3-pointer more than 11 minutes into the game was the first Hurricanes field goal scored by anyone other than Kenny Kadji.
In the second half, Blue's basket with 10:03 to play gave Marquette a 51-30 lead. The Hurricanes, who by then had started to press full court, then put together their best sequence of the night, a 7-0 run that cut the lead to 14 with 8½ minutes left.
But Wilson's dunk and Gardner's inside basket stretched the lead back to 18. Gardner became the scene-stealer late, thumping his chest to the Marquette fans after a dunk in the final four minutes.
The Hurricanes played without backup center Reggie Johnson, who had surgery Tuesday for a minor knee injury. Johnson was averaging seven rebounds, but he would have helped only if he could've put the ball in the basket.
"There are only two things you have to do in basketball: One, put the ball in the basket. Two, stop the other team from putting the ball in the basket," Larranaga said. "We weren't able to do either."
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