LEXINGTON, Ky. - After watching Butler senior guard Rotnei Clarke score 18 of his team's 35 first-half points against Marquette on Saturday in the third round of the East Regional, Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams grimly noted, "We've got to contest every shot. We've got to take the ball out of his hands."
Thanks to Vander Blue -- the hero of Marquette's one-point win over Davidson on Thursday -- scoring 29 points and Clarke being limited to six second-half points, the Eagles won 74-72 to advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season, reaching Thursday's East Regional semifinal against today's Miami-Illinois winner.
This figured to be one of the most entertaining games of Saturday's eight third-round contests if only because Butler had beaten Marquette 72-71 in Maui in November, and it didn't disappoint.
While Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State and Arizona all were rolling by big margins, the Golden Eagles and Bulldogs staged the kind of gamelong chess match you'd expect from two of the college game's brightest coaches.
So even though Clarke was giving his team a 35-27 halftime cushion, Marquette was four up on the boards (22-18) at the break and hadn't surrendered more than four points to any other Bulldog.
Then the second half began and the Eagles -- who had hit just 2 of 7 3-pointers in the opening period and shot 26 percent from the field overall (7-of-27) -- began to heat up, knocking down 13 of their first 22 shots after the break and stealing the ball seven times in the final half's first 13 minutes.
Such defense gave them a 64-62 lead with 4:02 to go on a Junior Cadougan drive. But neither team would surrender, and Butler actually got the ball on a Marquette turnover with 2.9 seconds to play with a chance to tie.
But Bulldogs center Andrew Smith's hurried jumper was well off the mark, and Marquette won.