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The loss to Seton Hall was embarrassing. Marquette knew it was on the bubble heading into the game and got blown out by the sub-.500 Pirates.

Williams spent an hour after that game _ which coincidentally was played in this building _ and talked to his team about the future.

“It was not a kumbaya meeting, not a prayer meeting, just a truthful meeting,” he said.

Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who leads the team with a 16-point average, said one thing was clear after meeting.

“You know that we have to play harder,” said Johnson-Odom, one of five JUCO players who see action in the Golden Eagles’ rotation. “When we lose games like that, we just have to play harder.”

That’s exactly what the Golden Eagles have done since the loss. They beat Providence and West Virginia in the Big East tournament, before losing to Louisville.

As an 11th seed in the NCAAs, the Golden Eagles have knocked off Xavier 66-55 and third-seeded Syracuse 66-62 to reach the round of 16 for the 14th time in school history. They are also only one of two Big East teams still playing. Connecticut is the other.

“I think tomorrow is definitely going to be a close game down to the wire, one or two possessions,” said Marquette forward Jimmy Butler, who is averaging 15.8 points and 6.1 rebounds. “And like I said, the toughest team is going to win.”

The last time North Carolina and Marquette met in the NCAA tournament was on March 28, 1977, in the championship game. Marquette won 67-59 for coach Al McGuire.

McDonald believes this can be North Carolina’s year again.

“I know all those Duke fans last year were enjoying it,” he said. “We’re back this year. We’re back on track.”