The real Marquette stands up
WASHINGTON -- The Marquette locker room never got too chaotic or hectic.
There was some exuberance, chatter and prayer before the media entered the room, according to the players. But there was nothing like the euphoria exhibited on the court as soon as Marquette dispatched Miami 71-61 to advance to the Elite Eight.
The Golden Eagles, who had held their emotions in check for 40 minutes save one guttural scream from Jamil Wilson on a block, waited until the domination was complete before letting loose. The players all ran to the Verizon Center side where the Marquette fans were located and shouted with joy, as senior Junior Cadougan yelled "We're here!"
Yes, they are.
And they deserve to be, as much -- if not more -- than any other Elite Eight team.
This is no longer just the hardworking, overachieving crew. Everyone can say with authority that this team is very good.
"We want credit when credit is due," Vander Blue said. "We've found ways to win, and we pull it out. We're not ready to go home. We're not ready."
Marquette survived two late-possession games against Davidson and Butler. All Davidson had to do was inbound the ball and the Wildcats would have won in the round of 64. They could not, and then Jake Cohen couldn't guard Blue off the dribble on his game-winning drive to the basket.
Marquette gave Butler a chance with a late possession in their round-of-32 game by throwing the ball out of bounds, but Butler couldn't convert a game-winning 3-pointer.
In the Sweet 16, there was no need for any drama. Marquette owned Miami from the opening tip.
Miami's staff said this was the one matchup in which Reggie Johnson would have helped. The big man would have given the Hurricanes size, rebounding and some energy, even though he had been marginalized at times. Johnson was back in Miami recovering from knee surgery, unable to join his teammates after persevering through an erratic career.
The Golden Eagles outrebounded the Hurricanes by five, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. There were plenty of empty possessions by Miami early and often, and second shots were hard to come by throughout the game.
Marquette was the aggressor. Miami was timid and looked like it had never seen such force in the paint or on the perimeter.
"Everybody knows us for playing hard," said Marquette's Chris Otule. "We play together. We're a 40-minute team. We're pretty good."
I'll say. I've seen this team in its three NCAA tournament games, and it never disappoints with its effort and production.
That wasn't the case the past two seasons. Marquette got blitzed in the Sweet 16 by North Carolina two years ago. Last season, Florida beat Marquette. This year, Miami was probably the perfect match for the Golden Eagles -- a team that wouldn't know what to do with such a powerful, cohesive unit.
"The first year against North Carolina we were happy to be there," said Cadougan. "The second year, we accomplished a lot, but we didn't play as hard as we could [against Florida]. The third test, I felt like we were ready. The whole year we haven't cared how many wins or losses we've had. We always bounce back. The Big East prepared us for a game like this."
Marquette coach Buzz Williams plays the card well of being a team that doesn't get the necessary love. Well, that will end now in the Elite Eight. Marquette may not have started out being perceived as a high-talent team, but it has plenty now with Blue -- a legit pro -- and lots of other pieces that are more than capable of winning their position battles in any game.
The overachieving tag may have applied to Marquette winning a share of the Big East, but it has been stripped now. Marquette earned its spot in the Elite Eight. This team belongs here as much as any other, because it no longer is just a team that works hard -- it executes, boards, defends, finishes and scores with flair.
Regardless of what happens in the Elite Eight, this should go down as the best team the Golden Eagles have had since the 2003 Final Four. The discussion on this should end now.
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