NEWARK, N.J. — Jimmy Butler missed a free throw early in the second half, and rather than racing back to stop North Carolina on the fast break, he simply hung his head.
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It was that kind of night for Marquette.
The Golden Eagles had twice as many turnovers as field goals in the first half, went nearly 10 minutes without scoring, and found themselves in such a deep hole that not even Dwyane Wade could have dug them out. By the time Marquette finally got going, the game was 30 minutes old and the Tar Heels were already coasting toward the Elite Eight.
The final score was 81-63.
It seemed much worse.
“They were outstanding,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said afterward. “I knew they were really good and I thought they played even better than good.”
The game probably conjured up memories – or nightmares – of when Marquette was on an even bigger stage, playing Kansas at the Final Four in 2003. The Jayhawks beat a team featuring Wade, Steve Novak and Travis Deiner 94-61 to reach the national title game.
Marquette did enough in the second half Friday night to make the final score appear much more benign, but the final box score revealed the utter domination.
The Golden Eagles went 6 for 30 from the field in the first half, finished 2 of 16 from beyond the 3-point arc, and turned the ball over 18 times while handing out only eight assists – none at all in the first half.
The Tar Heels scored 29 points off the turnovers, and 23 on offensive rebounds.
“We just got down and it was a big lead,” said Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who was 2 for 9 shooting for just seven points. “We fought and fought and fought in the second half and tried to cut it down, but it was a big hole.”
Even on the rare occasion when something good happened, Marquette managed to spoil it.
Jae Crowder scored a basket with 15:33 left in the game – the Golden Eagles were still behind 51-25 at that point – and shouted something while heading back for defense. A whistle quickly blew, a technical foul was called, and the Tar Heels were at the free-throw line.
The Golden Eagles showed some pluck again by getting within 65-50 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
The Tar Heels answered with an easy basket, and before Marquette could even inbound the ball, Davante Gardner plowed over Tyler Zeller heading the other direction. Zeller went to the foul line and made both shots, pushing the lead back to 69-50.
Marquette doggedly made it 69-55, and Tar Heels guard Dexter Strickland was about to turn over the ball falling out of bounds. Vander Blue got a little too close and was called for a foul instead, and Strickland knocked down two more free throws to restore order for the Tar Heels faithful.
All those blue-clad fans were on their feet a couple minutes later, cheering as coach Roy Williams cleared his bench – something that sure doesn’t happen often in a regional semifinal.
“Marquette, you have to credit them, because they kept digging in and competing and trying to do better themselves,” Williams said, before conceding: “I never felt like the game was in threat or anything.”