For more than 30 minutes, it looked as if Murray State would finally be headed to the Sweet 16. They fell just short in doing so just two years ago when they lost to Butler–2010's national runner-up–in the second round.
Even with home-state fans filling the arena in Louisville Ky., Marquette would be too much for the Racers down the stretch. Led by Big East player of the year Jae Crowder, the Golden Eagles made a tremendous comeback on a decisive 14-2 run to defeat Murray State 62-53. The Racers head home with a final record of 31-2, while the Golden Eagles head to the Sweet 16 in Arizona next weekend.
Crowder finished with 17 points, 12 in the second half, while pulling down 13 rebounds. Darius Johnson-Odom had 17 as well for Marquette.
"When you're playing a team like Murray State, they're going to keep throwing punches and throwing punches, and you have to find a way to slow them down," Johnson-Odom said. "We did a great job of that today."
Even though they're the prototypical 'David' in a tournament full of 'Goliaths,' Murray State seemed proud of their effort on Saturday.
"We proved today that we belong, and we belonged on a national stage," Racers coach Steve Prohm said. "We just weren't good enough the last seven minutes."
Now that Missouri is out of the tournament, most seem to think that Marquette could have a cake-walk the rest of the way. But the players might just be smart enough to think otherwise.
"I think it's even harder," Johnson-Odom said, "I don't think those seeds really mean too much of anything for us. We were an 11-seed, and we weren't expected to do anything last year. I think for us we're going to just have to stay focused on what we want to do, what's the goal for our team, things that we've been doing to continue the success we've been having."
Sounds like a smart kid. We'll see if those smarts translate into wins next weekend when they face the winner of Norfolk State vs. Florida.
The second game in the West on Saturday featured another possible Cinderella in New Mexico, who was trying to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
Just like the Racers, the Lobos just fell short.
New Mexico had a great last minute run, pulling within two points with only 1:36 to play, but eventually lost to Louisville 59-56 after a Gorgui Dieng dunk and a couple of Peyton Siva free throws.
Drew Gordon had a monster game for New Mexico, dropping in 21 points with 14 boards. He was also playing hurt after apparently hyper-extending his knee in the first half. Russ Smith was the high scorer for Louisville, with 17 points.
Louisville advances to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, after being eliminated in the first round the past two seasons. They will play the winner of Michigan State vs. Saint Louis next weekend.
West Region games to watch on Sunday
#9 Saint Louis
#1 Michigan State
#15 Norfolk State
Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS