Statline: 29 pts, 2 reb, 4 stl, 9-15 FG, 3-4 3FG, 8-8 FT, 34 min.
Quality of opponent: 10/10 The Bulldogs were only a No. 6 seed in the East Regional, but Brad Stevens was back in the Big Dance two seasons after back-to-back NCAA Championship appearances. Buzz Williams had run circles around opposing coaches all season, but Stevens had the experience to do the same. Butler’s brand of basketball was going to slow down Marquette, and the Golden Eagles’ lackluster performance against No. 14 Davidson made them only slight favorites. The seeding didn’t fool anyone: Butler was a legitimate threat.
Magnitude of game: 9/10 It was only the third round and Marquette was still favored to win the game, but all the pressure was on the Golden Eagles to make it to the Sweet 16 for a third season. Given that Butler was everyone’s upset pick to make the Sweet 16 (Davidson was a close second) for obvious reasons, Marquette needed this game. The Big East regular season co-champs had to make it past the first weekend, and this was a daunting task.
Rundown: Blue had a fairly productive first half, scoring 10 points while getting to the free-throw line six times (he made all six). But in the second half Marquette’s top player matched Butler’s top player–Rotnei Clarke–by scoring 19 points, including three 3-pointers, while playing all 20 minutes. He also grabbed three steals, made 4-of-8 two-pointers and hit some of the most clutch shots of any team in the NCAA Tournament. His consistency was matched only by his stellar crunch-time play, and it led to a third straight Sweet 16.
Key play: A back-and-forth affair in the second half began to shift Butler’s way when center Andrew Smith’s layup gave Butler a 58-54 lead with nine minutes to play. A Cadougan layup cut the lead to two, and a Jamil Wilson steal the next possession gave Blue a fast-break layup on the other end. The next trip down Blue stripped Kameron Woods and took it in for a slam to give Marquette a 60-58 lead, its first lead since 15-13 seven minutes into the game.
Wow factor: Butler’s calling card has always been stingy defense, and Brad Stevens’ group becomes a different–and even better–animal during Tournament time. Blue’s 29 points came a little more than four months after he poured in 21 against the Bulldogs in Maui. Stevens even admitted that he wasn’t sure any player had ever scored 50 points against his teams in one season, and the fact that the second came in the NCAA Tournament is all the more “wow.”
Historical precedent: It came in a loss, but Jerel McNeal’s 30-point effort against Stanford in the 2007 NCAA Tournament was another incredible performance. McNeal needed 25 shots to get there, but he scored 23 points after halftime (overtime included) and helped the Golden Eagles keep things close against the far-superior Lopez twin-led Cardinal. McNeal was a junior, and remember he also added eight rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.
Closing time: Here’s an easy one. Butler went on a 7-2 run in the closing minutes gave the Bulldogs a 69-66 lead with 1:39 to play. That’s when Blue found himself in the right corner, receiving a pass from Junior Cadougan. A quick jab step had Clarke on his heels, and Blue wasted no time in launching a 3-pointer to tie things up. Blue didn’t score the rest of the game, but that three shifted momentum to help Marquette outscore Butler 5-3 to end the game.