LEXINGTON, Ky.– Vander Blue had no doubt where he was going with the ball. The Marquette guard’s only concern was whether he’d have room to make it happen.
Blue needed just four seconds to make his own path. Taking Jamil Wilson’s inbound pass at midcourt with 5.5 seconds remaining, he drove left past Jake Cohen for a layup that completed a rally from nine points down and gave the third-seeded Golden Eagles an improbable 59-58 victory over No. 14 Davidson in Thursday’s second-round NCAA tournament game.
“All I was thinking was, `if I get to the rim, I have to finish,'” said Blue, who scored seven of Marquette’s final 10 points including a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. “I’m not ready to go home, I know our team’s not ready to go home.
“We got down by like seven, nobody ever panicked. … Nobody missed a beat. We knew the game isn’t over until the clock hits zero.”
Blue was there to ensure time ran out on Davidson, intercepting the last-ditch inbounds pass to seal a remarkable rally and set off a noisy celebration among players and Golden Eagles fans at Rupp Arena. Marquette advanced to Saturday’s third round against Butler, a 68-56 winner over Bucknell
It’s mostly thanks to Blue and Wilson.
Blue finished with 16 points while Wilson added 14, but their consecutive 3-pointers brought Marquette to within 58-57 with 11 seconds left. The Golden Eagles then caught a huge break when De’Mon Brooks’ long inbounds pass went out of bounds at midcourt with 5.5 seconds left, providing another opportunity.
“De’Mon just threw it a little too far,” said Davidson forward Jake Cohen, who scored a game-high 20 points including 12 in the second half. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”
On the game-winning play, Cohen added, “I got switched onto him and he got by me. Hindsight’s 20-20. It’s really easy to look back now and draw up something different. He made a big play and made a big shot.”
The Golden Eagles (24-8) won for the fifth time in six games despite shooting 20 of 58 from the field (35 percent) including 4 of 15 from 3-point range. Marquette’s known more for its inside scoring than outside to begin with, but it got clutch shots from Blue and Wilson when the game seemed to be in Davidson’s hands.
A 9-1 run gave the Wildcats a 49-40 lead, and they seemed poised to seal the game thanks to Cohen – plus Brooks and Nik Cochran, who both scored 11. But Marquette kept plugging away and found itself within range in the final minutes.
Then came perimeter jumpers from Blue and Wilson. Brooks’ turnover followed and Blue took over from there.
“After my first 3, it felt like things were going good,” Wilson said. “Van put the ball in the basket. It just opened up, going back to what we know best.”
The comeback spoiled Davidson’s upset bid and halted the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 games. The Wildcats entered the game shooting nearly 47 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free throw line.
Their numbers weren’t as good on Thursday, but the Wildcats thought they had enough.
“We emptied our tank today,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “Credit Marquette, they made three plays down the stretch.”
Marquette shared the regular reason Big East title with Louisville and Georgetown. But coach Buzz Williams has sought a more complete game from his team, stressing extra possessions through rebounding while minimizing turnovers. The Golden Eagles’ main goal going in was to create opportunities inside.
Early on, though, they couldn’t hit from anywhere.
As Marquette was missing 10 of its first 11 attempts, Davidson came out hot, especially from the perimeter. Chris Czerapowicz, J.P. Kuhlman and Jake Cohen all made 3-pointers in the Wildcats’ 12-2 start.
Davidson’s defense was also effective against Marquette’s second chances, forcing the Golden Eagles to shoot off balance instead of spotting up. The Golden Eagles regrouped slightly with five straight points, but Cochran answered from beyond the arc to put the Wildcats ahead 15-7 with 12:19 left in the half.
By the half, Marquette had closed to 25-23 and the next 10 minutes were tight, with six ties and seven lead changes before De’Mon Brooks’ two free throws put Davidson up 40-38. After Wilson’s free throw for Marquette, Tyler Kalinoski followed with a 3-pointer and Cochran added a bank to put the Wildcats up by six, leading to a Golden Eagles timeout with 9:24 left.
The lead stretched to nine with under seven minutes left, but then came the comeback that Blue will remember for a while.
“It’s the NCAA tournament, and nothing’s coming easy,” he said. “If you want to win, you’ve got to take it.”