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Experience in close games helps Marquette get past Davidson

Most teams would start to panic when facing the type of deficits that Marquette had against Davidson.

Fortunately, playing close games is just another day at the office for the Golden Eagles.

With their 59-58 victory over Davidson, Buzz Williams’ team is 5-2 in its last seven games, all of which have been decided by eight points or fewer. They’ve blown late leads before. Against St. John’s, the Golden Eagles were up by seven with two minutes left.

Marquette was on the other side of the situation on Thursday afternoon in Lexington, though. All those close games this season and in years past helped the East region’s No. 3 seed overcome being down by six with one minute and 10 seconds left, and also down by five with 40 seconds left.

“We’ve been in more one or two possession games, I would say, than any BCS team in the country,” Williams said. “So it has helped me, it has helped our staff, it has helped out team, not necessarily that we’ve won or lost, but we’ve had a lot of game life big stage reps in being down and maybe being ahead.”

While they have played plenty of close games, that doesn’t means the Golden Eagles have plenty of experience in last-second scenarios. Fortunately for them, no one has to look too far back to find a similar scenario where they needed a game-winning shot.

Against St. John’s on March 9th, Marquette was tied at 67 with the Red Storm with less than 10 seconds left in overtime. Williams went to his leading scorer in the clutch: junior guard Vander Blue.

Blue hit the game-winning floater 12 days ago, and provided similar heroics on a much grander stage against Davidson. He drove left, past Wildcats’ big man Jake Cohen, and scored on a left-handed lay-up to put the Golden Eagles up by one point with exactly 1.0 second left.

“I’m just grateful that Coach has unbelievable trust in me to take the last shot and all my teammates wanted me to shoot the ball,” Blue said.

Before his game-winner, Blue wasn’t thinking about his experience against St. John’s when Jamil Wilson inbounded the ball to him with 6.7 seconds left. The only thought on his mind was getting to the basket and scoring.

“I’m not ready to go home. I know our team wasn’t ready to go home,” Blue said. “(I knew I) just to have to put the ball in the basket for us to win and do whatever it took.”

Wilson hit two three-point shots in the final minute-and-a-half of the game and Blue hit one of his own to keep the Golden Eagles in the game. Marquette was down six when Wilson hit the first, five before Blue hit his, and four before Wilson’s last one with 10 seconds left.

Before the first of those three field goals from beyond the arc, Marquette was just 1 of 12 on three-pointers. Wilson was 2 of 11 from the field, too. Even Blue was struggling a bit going 3 of 13 from the field before his three-point shot with 27 seconds remaining in the game.

“We had to shoot it. We were down. We wanted to take the best shot,” Blue said. “I wouldn’t say that we were hunting threes, but whatever became available, we were shooting to try to set up our defense and get the ball back.”

Even before Wilson and Blue hit their respective clutch shots, the Golden Eagles never thought they were out of the game. In every huddle during every timeout, there was a sense of belief that the game was still a winnable one.

“No one really panicked. Everyone just kind of had a calm sense of themselves to get back in the game, because we play four-minute situations every day in practice most of the time,” Wilson said. “Something like that wasn’t really new to us.”

All of their confidence that they would come back was coming from their head coach.

“Late in the game when you see coach Buzz smiling, you can’t really get angry at yourself when you see your head coach smiling when you’re down seven with six minutes to go,” Blue said. “It just shows the confidence he has in us and everybody was engaged.”

It wasn’t like it needed more experience in late game situations, but Marquette got more against Davidson. Now, as they somehow try to turn their attention to Saturday’s third round game, the Golden Eagles have all the more confidence moving forward in the NCAA Tournament.

“If we do get into another close ballgame with any other team, we’ll know how to respond and handle it,” Blue said. “(It) can definitely help us that way.

“But at the same time, it just shows our team this is the NCAA Tournament and nothing is coming easy, and if you want to win, you got to take it.”

Against Davidson on Thursday afternoon, Marquette definitely took the victory from their opponents. Their next game is now against the team the Golden Eagles had their first close game against this season: the Butler Bulldogs.

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