Marquette wins another Butler dogfight

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- They are joined now, linked in this new Big East conglomerate that will start play next season.

And they are becoming so similar.

They are doubted. They aren’t feared at all.

Butler and Marquette have become synonymous with playing on the edge. It’s how Butler’s Brad Stevens and Marquette’s Buzz Williams coach.

Neither side tends to blow anyone out. Rarely does either get run out of a gym. Butler has had its moments this season, against VCU most notably. But they are more rare than common.

And so it was not surprising that, with a Sweet 16 bid on the line, this game -- like their meeting in Maui in November -- would come down to one final shot.

Butler couldn’t convert. Marquette won, 74-72.

“In our last eight games decided by one possession or less we’re 6-2,’’ said Williams. “We’re just good enough not to get blown out and not good enough to blow an opponent out. The quicker we can turn it into a fight, the better. If it’s a fight, then it’s going to be a one- or two-possession game.’’

The third-seeded Golden Eagles needed a Davidson turnover to get a second chance to win in the round of 64. Vander Blue made a driving layup to win that game, the same shot, though from a different side, that he hit to knock off St. John’s at Madison Square Garden to earn a three-way share of the Big East regular-season title.

“I think we’ve played more one-possession games than any team in the BCS,’’ said Williams. “We give too many teams extra possessions.’’

The NCAA tournament has mostly been kind to Butler since 2010. The sixth-seeded Bulldogs have experienced some incredible highs and one painful low -- until Saturday.

Two years ago, the Bulldogs beat a Pittsburgh team they should not have to advance. Two shots, not just one, didn’t go down in one of the most memorable finals in the past 10 years in a loss to Duke at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2010.

On Saturday, Stevens sat slumped in a chair outside the Bulldogs’ locker room, his head leaning back against a post. He was exhausted. He had seen the other side so often.

This is the cruelty of the NCAA tournament. You can have the unbelievable emotion one second only to feel agonized a moment later.

“The Pitt game was miserable for them, the Duke game was miserable for us,’’ said Stevens. “It all evens out over time. Our guys played really hard. We have nothing to hang our heads about. We ran into a team that played at a high level, especially in the second half.’’

Both teams made their share of mental mistakes to leave the game hanging on the final possession.

The final five seconds were about as harried as possible.

Marquette’s Davante Gardner had put the Golden Eagles up by four with four seconds remaining with a pair of free throws.

This happened after Butler’s Rotnei Clarke took a Marshall Henderson-like deep 3-pointer when he wasn’t closely guarded and the Bulldogs were only down two. The ball barely nicked the net.

Stevens said he had no problem with the shot since Clarke had done so much for Butler this season, and added that Clarke had a “neon-green light.’’

Then, for some reason after the Gardner free throws, Jamil Wilson attempted to block -- but ended up goaltending -- an Andrew Smith bucket to pull the Bulldogs to within 74-72 with two seconds remaining.

And then Marquette pulled a Davidson and messed up the inbounds pass. The ball went out of bounds; possession, Butler.

Down two, with two seconds left, Butler had a shot to tie or win.

Marquette did a great job preventing Clarke from getting the ball. Stevens said the play was on him. He had a play if Marquette went to a 2-3 zone and one if it went man. But the players didn’t recognize the defense and got confused.

Roosevelt Jones inbounded the ball to a leaning Smith, who stumbled, and hurled up an errant 3-pointer. Smith crumpled to the floor. His career over. Jones sat on the floor, too, before Williams helped him up after going through the handshake line.

Both teams were exhausted. Coming down the hallway to the locker room, Blue said he was sore. He was beaten up from a brutal game.

“If you don’t go at that team then they’ll hurt you,’’ said Blue, who finished with 29 points. “They play defense similar to Wisconsin. They’re not a shot-blocking team. You have to get to the basket and if you do you can be successful.’’

Blue said as Clarke’s 3-pointer was in the air, he had a flashback to the Maui Invitational game.

“I was like, ‘Please Rotnei, don’t make this one.’ I knew he was going to shoot it,’’ said Blue. “He’s a great player. But this is how we like it. Nobody ever panics, and it’s in our character, with all the hard work we put in this year. We wouldn’t like it any other way. We put it out there. There is something incredibly special about this team.’’

Williams amazingly still had energy after the game. He has had quite a week.

He got to Lexington and had to take his wife, Corey, to the hospital for what turned out to be appendicitis. He had two of his four children with him here in Lexington, but, luckily, had family with him to help. He spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in a Lexington hospital by Corey's bedside.

“My wife has been in the hospital in Lexington for over half our stay here,’’ said Williams. “It’s been a crazy, crazy four days in Lexington.’’

Corey was released from the hospital and is recovering. Williams was waiting to see if she could fly home Saturday night. His two boys, Calvin, 9, and Mason, 6, were with him past midnight by the locker room, wide-awake and thrilled to be going to a third straight Sweet 16.

Williams, much like Stevens, has a team that most doubt, yet never quits and plays possessions like they are valued commodities.

Butler is done for a season. Marquette is moving on. They will meet again in the Big East next season and the scripts will likely be exactly the same.