Marquette Coach Buzz Williams said Friday he didn’t consider No. 6 seed Murray State a Cinderella, and suggested the Racers would consider such a designation “somewhat disrespectful.”
The coach’s words rang true throughout Saturday’s exciting West Region round-of-32 battle between No. 3 seed Marquette and Murray State, which featured 11 ties and eight lead changes. But when the final buzzer sounded, the Racers’ remarkable season came to an end as the Golden Eagles proved too much in a 62-53 victory.
Big East player of the year Jae Crowder was once again at his multi-dimensional best, ending the contest with 17 points, 13 rebounds, four steals, two assists and two blocks. Guard Darius Johnson-Odom also chipped in 17 points to get Marquette back to the Sweet 16 for a second consecutive season.
Murray State started a fast-paced second half by making just three of its first 19 shots, but with both teams locking down on the defensive end, the Racers were able to take a 46-41 lead with less than eight minutes remaining courtesy of a 12-3 run.
But Marquette wouldn’t fade and took a 51-48 lead when reserve Davante Gardner came off the bench and scored his first points of the game on consecutive possessions. Crowder then seized the momentum for good, drawing a charge before nailing a three-pointer on Marquette’s ensuing possession to cap off a 13-2 surge.
Ultimately, Murray State was done in by an inability to generate much offensively. The Racers shot just 26 percent in the second half and had only two field goals over the final 7 minutes 43 seconds of the game. Senior Isaiah Canaan finished with a team-high 16 points, but more often than not, the Racers found themselves bottled up by a tenacious Marquette defense.
Murray State entered this year’s tournament as the only one-loss team in the field, a feat that made them a nationally ranked mid-major darling throughout the regular season. And though the Racers were the lower-seeded team Saturday, they enjoyed a home-court advantage with the game being played in Louisville, just hours from its campus.
Murray State was trying to become the first team ever from the Ohio Valley Conference to win two games in the NCAA tournament. But it was the few Marquette fans in the stands that chanted “Sweet 16” as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
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