The third-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles beat the perpetually tough No. 6 seed Butler Bulldogs, 74-72, in an outstanding East Region Round of 32 battle in Rupp Arena on Saturday evening.
In an extremely tight game eerily reminiscent of the early regular-season matchup Butler won, 72-71, back in November, each team's biggest star came to play on the big stage.
The Bulldogs held an eight-point halftime advantage thanks to the hot outside shooting of star senior guard Rotnei Clarke, who poured in 18 points in the first 20 minutes and finished with a team-high 24.
Vander Blue, who was the hero in Marquette's opener against the pesky Davidson Wildcats, stood out once again in an attempt to neutralize Clarke's monster game.
The junior wound up guiding the Golden Eagles' comeback, leading all scorers with 29 points and four steals.
Blue was the impact player when Marquette head coach Buzz Williams deployed a full-court-press defense, which gave the Bulldogs trouble, particularly when Roosevelt Jones inbounded the ball.
But on the offensive end, Blue hit an incredibly clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 69-69 late. After a miss on the other end and an over-the-back foul on Butler forward Kameron Woods, Jamil Wilson hit two free throws that ultimately put Marquette out in front for good.
Clarke tried to pull off similar heroics to the buzzer-beater that he hit to beat the Golden Eagles in Maui, but he air-balled his three-point attempt.
An incredible full-court pass and subsequent muffed inbound pass gave Butler a ray of hope with 2.4 seconds left, as the Bulldogs trailed, 74-72.
Unfortunately for Brad Stevens' squad, big man Andrew Smith caught it at the top of the key, and his desperate heave clanged off the backboard as time expired. The Golden Eagles advance to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year.
As entertaining as these two teams' encounters were this season, next season should be a wonderful showdown to watch when the two clash in the new Big East Conference.
Dari Nowkhah of ESPN gave thanks to this thriller after all of Saturday's earlier games were complete blowouts:
Dari Nowkhah @ESPNDari
Thank Goodness for #Butler and #Marquette ... Needed that one after a day of dog games...2013-3-24 02:31:51
Florida Gators national champion and current Atlanta Hawks All-Star Al Horford was extremely impressed by the gritty, back-and-forth affair:
Al Horford @Al_Horford
Marquette Butler game is what the tournament is all about! #Intensity #fightingfortheirseason2013-3-24 01:44:18
Pat Forde of Yahoo! pointed to the change in strategy that led to Marquette's second-half surge:
Pat Forde @YahooForde
Marquette smartly laying full-court pressure on Butler -- speed up a slow team and challenge some shaky ball handlers.2013-3-24 01:43:49
USA Today's Dan Wolken was almost at a loss for words in describing the play of Blue this weekend:
Dan Wolken @DanWolken
Vander Blue has been special this weekend. No other way to put it.2013-3-24 01:57:34
Royce Young of CBS Sports did not agree with the late foul call on Butler's Woods, which proved costly for the Bulldogs' chance to win:
Royce Young @royceyoung
This Butler-Marquette game has been amazing. For shame the go ahead points for Marquette came on a completely absurd call.2013-3-24 02:21:16
Zac Jackson of FOX Sports Ohio noted the unfortunate timing of the Bulldogs' offensive gaffes as the clock wound down:
Zac Jackson @AkronJackson
The 2 worst possessions in Brad Stevens' tenure were Butler's last two possessions.2013-3-24 02:30:26
ESPN's Chad Ford alluded to the teams' previous showdown at the Maui Invitational, noting that this contest lived up to that lofty standard:
Chad Ford @chadfordinsider
Saw Butler-Marquette live in Maui first time. This one was just as good. Two very tough teams. Great win for Marquette.2013-3-24 02:30:55
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