HARRIS: Almost done early, Marquette plays on in the NCAA tournament after crushing Miami

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ANALYSIS/OPINION

On the first day of the NCAA tournament, Marquette was down a point to Davidson with seven seconds to play. It did not have the ball.

Saturday, Marquette will play for a spot in the Final Four.

It’s a funny game sometimes.

The team that struggled to get past a 14-seed in Davidson and had to rally from nine down in the second half to beat Butler in its next game put together a shockingly strong performance to beat Miami 71-61 on Thursday night at Verizon Center.

The shock is not that Marquette did it, or that Marquette even won. The Golden Eagles are clearly a very strong team, good enough to earn a No. 3 seed in the East Region. The shock is that they dominated a team many – including D.C.’s own RG3 – thought could win the national title.

No one could have seen that coming. Miami, the champions of the ACC, was down by as many as 21 in the second half. Frankly, the Hurricanes were never really in this one.

“They had that confidence,” said Miami guard Rion Brown, who was 2-12 from the floor. He had lots of company in the misery department. Durand Scott was 3-13 and Trey McKinney Jones 3-10 as Miami only shot 34.9 percent. And it had to finish strong to do that.

“You could look and see, they felt like they couldn’t lose,” Brown continued. “They got out of two situations where they should have been going home, You get a team like that, they come in thinking they can’t lose. They came in and did exactly what they were supposed to do.”

Chris Otule, Marquette’s rugged center, didn’t dispute Brown’s point. When you don’t necessarily play your best and win, imagine what can happen when you do play your best.

“When you can win some close games like we did, it gives you the confidence you need,” Otule said. “We showed that against Miami. We know what we’re capable of and how good we are. We finally put together 40 minutes of basketball this game.”

Davante Gardner, another of Marquette’s strong inside players, said it was the best game Marquette has played. Gardner, who had 14 points, conceded the Golden Eagles can be “an on and off team. So we’ll see how it goes. I feel pretty good from tonight’s game, so I think we’ll be OK.”

Marquette, if it does manage to continue the same kind of play, certainly has the weapons to end up as the ultimate winner of this tournament. Otule is 6-11, 275 pounds. Gardner is three inches shorter, but 15 pounds heavier. The team doesn’t lack for bulk.

The outside players are pretty good, too. Vander Blue, who hit the winning shot in that Davidson game, had 14 points against Miami. He played all 40 minutes. Jamil Wilson had 16.

“They’re tough defensively, they’re tough inside, they rebound very, very well, they attack the rim very, very well,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga. “I would have liked for us to play our normal game so we could really see how good we both were. But we didn’t have it tonight, and they did.”

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