LAHAINA, Hawaii -- A few thoughts from here in the gym during the aftermath of Rotnei Clarke's buzzer-beating 3 that lifted Butler over Marquette 72-71, in a thrilling start to the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
WHAT IT MEANS: It means Clarke can shoot from anywhere on the floor. His 3-point heave at the buzzer gave Butler the win, as once again the Bulldogs proved they can hang with the big guys. It took a miracle heave from Clarke to win it, but it was Butler’s perseverance against a physical Marquette team that won it the game.
THE SKINNY: The Golden Eagles came out of the gate with a stifling defense that gave them a big 14-4 lead early on. Butler looked completely intimidated by the physicality and athleticism of Marquette early. But MU’s offense disappeared shortly thereafter and Butler hung around. Clarke was launching shots from everywhere and forward Khyle Marshall was terrific in the post for Butler.
The second half gave Marquette fans hope that perhaps Vander Blue was going to finally live up to his potential. He took the team on his back and did a little of everything for the Eagles. He was relentless driving to the hole, made a couple of big 3s and was finding guys for wide-open shots. A 3-pointer by Blue with 1:59 left in the game put Marquette up 67-62.
But the play of Marshall and big man Andrew Smith inside, followed by Clarke’s buzzer-beater, proved to be the difference for the Bulldogs.
STAR WATCH: A number of NBA GMs and scouts were in the stands to see two prospects: Blue and Butler freshman Kellen Dunham.
Blue was terrific in the second half, primarily because he was aggressive. He has had NBA talent since leaving high school, but Blue always seems to lack confidence on the offensive end. After a so-so first half (6 points, 2-for-7 from the field) he took over the game in the second and almost won it for Marquette. If he can play with that level of confidence all season, Marquette is going to be very tough and Blue will be back in the draft conversation.
Dunham was a major disappointment in this one. He led the Bulldogs in scoring coming into the game, but really struggled against Marquette’s physical defense. Scouts love his shooting ability, but against Butler he looked, frankly, scared and resorted to just standing around the 3-point line. He had a couple of nice drives and dishes, but the former Indiana prep star who averaged nearly 30 ppg as a high school senior looked out of place.
As for the hero of the day, Clarke played big when it counted but shot just 7-of-21 from the field and 4-for-14 from deep. He’s a clutch shooter, but NBA scouts feel he’s too small and not a great enough athlete to be a pro. But try finding anyone on the Butler sideline who cared about that today.
NUMBER CRUNCH: The game may have been won by a huge 3-pointer, but up to that point neither team could really connect from long distance. Butler shot just 19 percent from 3 and Marquette wasn’t much better at 28 percent.
WHAT'S NEXT: Butler will play the winner of the North Carolina-Mississippi State game Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Marquette will play the loser of that game Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.