WASHINGTON -- A few thoughts from Marquette's 71-61 victory over Miami in an East Regional semifinal Thursday:
Overview: Marquette had played on the edge for two rounds of the NCAA tournament, fortunate to win against Davidson and Butler.
The Golden Eagles were due to bust out with a comfortable victory. But who knew it would come against the ACC regular-season and tournament champs?
Miami had been in a few grinder games earlier this season, against Michigan State and Virginia. But the Hurricanes were not prepared for Marquette's toughness, aggressive behavior on the backboards and overall punishing ability to make shots, grab rebounds and convert.
This was over early, as No. 2-seeded Miami scored just 16 points in the first half and never seriously threatened in the second.
Third-seeded Marquette moves on to the Elite Eight for the first time since Dwyane Wade led the Tom Crean-coached Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003.
Miami finishes its best season ever at 29-7 -- but two games short of the ultimate goal. The Hurricanes tried to dismiss the importance of losing Reggie Johnson to a knee injury after Sunday's win over Illinois. Yet they could have used Johnson to help keep Marquette off the backboard, or at least contribute his five fouls.
Nevertheless, the Golden Eagles (26-8) were clearly no fluke in tying Georgetown and Louisville for the Big East regular-season crown. This team might not have had the early-season hype or star power, but once again it has shined with developed headliners like Vander Blue and Jamil Wilson and plenty of tremendous role play from Trent Lockett, Chris Otule and Junior Cadougan.
Turning point: I'm going early here. Davante Gardner spun and converted to put the Eagles up 10-4; Blue then pushed the lead to 12-4 nearly eight minutes into the first half. Miami was having a hard time getting more than one shot per possession. Blue then buried a step-back 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer for a 29-16 lead. The Canes were thoroughly clueless offensively, going 1-of-11 on 3s and 6-of-29 from the field before intermission.
Star of the game: It's a bit of a draw between Blue and Wilson. Blue made big shots and finished with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but Wilson was also a difference-maker for Marquette as he led all scorers with 16, along with eight boards. Wilson converted timely 3s and found the seams in the defense to convert around the basket. He also had three blocks late into the second half -- one of them an emphatic, message-sending delivery. Miami had the style and the flash with the neon sneakers. But substance won over any kind of fashion statement on this night. This was a good evening to be a member of the new Big East.
What's next: Marquette can stay in D.C. for the Easter weekend, can go watch the school's men's lacrosse team take on Georgetown on Friday, and enjoy what has been a wonderful ride for the unheralded but well-respected Golden Eagles. Fourth-seeded Syracuse will await Saturday.