The Golden Eagles set up their press, just as Miami had expected them to do after made baskets. For 36 games, the Hurricanes have set up their press-breaking offense exactly the same way: Durand Scott taking the ball out of bounds, Shane Larkin looking to get open in order to get the ball upcourt.
There was just one problem.
Scott was nowhere in sight. “I looked up and saw him running down the court,” Miami Coach Jim Larranaga said. “We’ve set up the same way against the press all season and he just ran downcourt.”
It was at that moment that Larranaga knew he and his team were in for a long night at Verizon Center. Before it was over, Marquette had made a mockery of what was supposed to be a close game.
Instead, it was never a contest. The final score was 71-61, but it wasn’t even that close. Marquette led 69-47 with 2 minutes 16 seconds left before Miami finished the game on a 14-2 run during garbage time to make the final score respectable.
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Larranaga said. “We didn’t have the juice. You could see it right from the start.”
Scott forgetting to pick up the ball to start the Hurricanes’ press-break was symbolic of a week that was disastrous almost from the moment Miami got home from their second-round win over Illinois in Austin. First, Larranaga found out that Reggie Johnson, his best rebounder, needed knee surgery and wouldn’t play this week. On Tuesday, just before the team left for Washington, Scott caught an elbow in the mouth in practice that loosened a couple of his teeth and forced a trip to the dentist. Then Shane Larkin spent most of Wednesday night throwing up.
“Nothing went right all week,” Larranaga said. “We just couldn’t prepare the way we needed to.” He smiled. “Of course, we might have prepared perfectly and still lost. That was a good team.”
Much was made all week about Larranaga’s return to the site of his most glorious coaching moment in 2006, when his George Mason team beat Wichita State and stunned Connecticut to make the Final Four. Larranaga talked openly about how much it meant to him to be back here but also noted that only he and his coaches carried those memories — to the players, this was just another place to play basketball.
And they didn’t play especially well.
“It was frustrating,” Larkin said. “They made a point of double-teaming me and getting the ball out of my hands — that was their game plan and it worked.”
In truth, everything Marquette did in this game worked. With Johnson out, they dominated the Hurricanes inside. With Scott (3 of 13 from the field) and Rion Brown (2 of 12) unable to make shots and with the entire team shooting 4 of 22 from the three-point line until those final two minutes, the Hurricanes never had a chance.
“We picked the wrong night to miss every shot,” said Miami assistant Chris Caputo, who was here with Larranaga for that miraculous run seven years ago.
As it turned out, that moment when Larranaga saw Scott — who got hit in the mouth again early in the game — running downcourt when he was supposed to be inbounding was the last time the score was tied. Marquette took a 22-10 lead on Jamil Wilson’s three-pointer with 7:49 left in the first half and Miami never got to within single digits again.
“We knew Larkin was their key guy,” said Vander Blue, who had 14 points and helped deny Larkin the ball most of the night. “We knew we had to slow him down because he’s their engine. When we got the ball out of his hands, that was key for us.”
It didn’t hurt that Miami shot 20.7 percent the first half and that Marquette, up 29-16 at halftime, made 8 of 10 to start the second half and pushed the lead to 51-30. Miami was forced to press and, as Larranaga noted, that’s just not their game.
“We’re not Louisville or VCU,” he said. “That’s not the way we’re built. But we had no choice. When we have to press with 16 minutes left in the game, that usually means we’re in trouble.”
Marquette is one of those teams that plays with a chip on its shoulder and uses that chip for motivation. Coach Buzz Williams is the unnoticed-coach-who-can, taking his team to three straight Sweet 16’s (and now the Elite Eight) with very few people noticing — until now — just how good a coach he is. The Golden Eagles finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Big East but were a No. 3 seed in this tournament, while the two teams they tied with—Louisville and Georgetown — were a No. 1 and a No. 2. Williams made sure his players knew coming in here all about a story on a national Web site that rated his team 16th among the 16 teams still playing.
That had nothing to do with the outcome of this game. Marquette was ready to play and Miami wasn’t. It was really as simple as that.
“Sometimes it’s just not your night,” Larranaga said after talking about how proud he was of his team for winning both the ACC regular season and tournament titles. “Our hotel was a mile-and-a-half from here and it took us 45 minutes to get through all the traffic.”
A while later, standing in a hallway outside his locker room, he shrugged. “That bus ride no affect on our preparation for the game,” he said, just as he had said in the interview room a few minutes earlier. “It was just kind of symbolic. It’s a shame for the season to end this way but in a way, I could almost see it coming all week.”
And if he had any doubts, they went away after Marquette’s second basket of the night.
Almost two hours later, with the score 67-46 and a little more than two minutes left, Scott walked to the foul line. Suddenly, the telscreen above the court switched to a tape of Indiana’s Keith Smart hitting the shot that beat Syracuse in the national championship game 26 years ago.
No doubt that tape was supposed to be cued up before the start of the second game between Indiana and Syracuse. Someone pressed a wrong button.
Then again, maybe not.
For more by John Feinstein, go to www.washingtonpost.com/feinstein.
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