Marquette 77, Pittsburgh 74
-- In an upset that brought scores of fans streaming onto the Metrodome court, third-seeded Marquette shocked No. 2 seed Pittsburgh, 77-74, tonight in a Midwest Region semifinal.
Marquette, the Conference USA regular season champion, will meet top-ranked Kentucky Saturday for a trip to the Final Four. Earlier, the Wildcats beat Wisconsin, 63-57.
Marquette (26-5), after a shaky start at the beginning of the game, got a strong second half from its go-to guy, 6-foot-5 junior Dwyane Wade, who scored 20 of his 22 points after intermission as the Golden Eagles reached the regional finals for the first time since 1977, when they went on to win the national championship under Al McGuire. The loss ended Pittsburgh's winning streak at 11.
Wade got 10 straight points for the Golden Eagles early in the second half to enable them to pull away from the favorites, providing just enough of a cushion for the Milwaukee team to survive at the end. They also got big efforts from 6-foot-10 junior Scott Merritt, who scored 17, and 6-10 senior Robert Jackson, who had 16, in surprising the Panthers (28-5), who won both the Big East regular season and conference tournament.
"These guys have great heart," Marquette Coach Tom Crean said. "They play with a ton of courage. Our players never backed down even when we lost the lead. They never flinched when the lead got down to one near the end of the game."
Crean thanked fans of the Wisconsin Badgers, who lost the first game of the evening to Kentucky, for rooting hard for Marquette. "I think this is a Wisconsin thing, not just a Milwaukee thing," Crean said. "A lot of our players come from Wisconsin."
Wade's 10-point outburst early in the second half lifted Marquette to a 51-44 lead and enabled Wade to regain confidence.
"It's a long season," he said. "Sometimes I've had one half that was better than the other. Having a bad half doesn't mean the other half will be bad. I try to keep that in mind."
Back-court partner Travis Diener and Merritt called Wade "the best player in America."
This much can be said: He made an almost-impossible shot with 10 minutes remaining, flinging the ball over his head as he fell hard to the floor to the right of the basket. The ball banked off the glass, and Wade got up to make a free throw to complete the remarkable three-point play for a 60-51 Marquette lead.
Diener and Wade kept the Golden Eagles soaring.
Diener hit a fallaway jumper from along the baseline. Wade drove to the basket for a layup and a 67-58 Marquette lead with 5:45 to play. As the clock ticked down, Marquette slowed the play. Pittsburgh continued driving for the basket, but often recklessly. Wade came away with a loose ball and beat the Panthers to the other end for a stuff, giving Marquette a 70-59 lead with 4:44 to play.
At that point, Brandin Knight, who had been having a difficult game, pulled himself together and rallied Pittsburgh. Twice he fed 6-7 sophomore Chevon Troutman for layups as the Panthers went on a nine-point run to cut the lead to 71-70 with 1:25 to play. Although Marquette had put on the equivalent of a clinic, Pittsburgh suddenly had a chance to win.
Merritt made two free throws for Marquette with 1:08 left. Knight countered with a layup making it 73-72, Marquette, with 55 seconds left. Marquette spread the floor and ran down the clock as much as possible. Then, Wade broke toward the basket and made a twisting runner for a 75-72 Marquette lead with 23 seconds left.
"Our goal has always been to make it to New Orleans and the Final Four," Diener said. "We're not satisfied to be just this far. Kentucky is going to be a tough opponent. But if we play the way we've played all year, we should be all right."