Marquette’s Davante Gardner reacts after a huge dunk against the Miami Hurricanes in the second half of their Sweet 16 game Thursday night.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Marquette is playing well. More important, the Golden Eagles are playing with a chip on their shoulders.
Told by a reporter his team was ranked last out of 16 teams left in the tournament by one outlet before Thursday’s play, coach Buzz Williams of Marquette was quick to respond to a question that was meant for one of his players.
“We will be dead last when we wake up Saturday morning, too,” as one of eight teams left in the tournament, said Williams.
The No. 3 seed Golden Eagles dominated nearly the entire game and beat No. 2 seed Miami 71-61 Thursday night in the East Region semifinals at the Verizon Center as Williams earned his first trip to the Elite Eight with Marquette.
Reserve Jamil Wilson had 16 points, sub Davante Gardner had 14, starter Vander Blue added 14 and Chris Otule had 11 points for Marquette.
Trent Lockett had eight points and 11 rebounds for the Golden Eagles (26-8), who held Miami (29-7) to 34.9 percent shooting from the field.
Marquette led by 22 points late in the game and only some late baskets by the Hurricanes made the score respectable.
Shane Larkin had 14 points for Miami, which made just eight of 26 shots from 3-point range. Kenny Kadji had 11 for Miami and Durand Scott had 10 points and five assists.
“It was more of our whole team. It was not just me,” said Blue, when asked of his late-season heroics. “This Elite Eight thing is for everybody. It is everybody going about their business.”
“There is something about this group of guys,” Blue added. “We are relentless. We can celebrate this win now. But we are hungry for more.”
Marquette has played many close games while winning seven of the last nine, including its first two NCAA Tournament games by a combined three points. But that was not the case Thursday.
“We had a great week of preparation,” Wilson said. “We have the mindset to get better. To have a cushion like that (29-16 at halftime), we still felt we had keep pushing.”
“We had a great week of preparation and it showed tonight,” Lockett said.
The return to the Verizon Center for Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, who led George Mason to the Final Four in 2006, did not end well. He said Larkin was sick most of Wednesday night and added the team bus took 45 minutes to go about one-and-a-half miles on nine different streets to get to the game from the hotel. Larranaga added that did not impact pregame warmups or the outcome for the Hurricanes, who also played without key big man Reggie Johnson (knee). Johnson was injured Sunday against Illinois.
“Nothing seemed to work,” Larranaga said. “We just did not have it tonight. We didn’t have the juice. They are tough defensively. They are tough inside and they rebound well.”
Larkin, who was the focus of Illinois’ defense in the third round, tipped his cap to Marquette.
“They just had a great game plan and executed their game plan to a T,” Larkin said. “We had a whole bunch of open shots in the first half. Nobody could get hot. That was frustrating.”
Wilson, a junior forward averaging 9.7 points, hit a 3-pointer to give Marquette a 41-23 lead - its biggest of the game at the time - with 14:56 remaining.
Miami cut the lead to 43-30 on a 3-pointer by Trey McKinney-Jones early in the second half but the Golden Eagles went on an 8-0 run to take a 51-30 lead on a basket by Blue.
A dunk by Julian Gamble of Miami made it 51-37 with 8:36 left in the game but Gardner made two baskets in a row to give Marquette a 57-39 lead with 6:20 left.
Gardner hit two free throws with 4:45 left to give the Golden Eagles a 59-42 edge as Marquette fans began the “over-rated” chant directed at Miami.
Gardner hit two more three throws to make it 61-44 and a layup by Blue gave Marquette a 63-44 advantage with just four minutes to go to put away Miami.
Marquette will play Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between No. 1 seed Indiana and No. 4 seed Syracuse.
NOTES: The game was a homecoming for Larranaga and his staff, who captured the East Region title with upstart George Mason on the same floor in 2006 to earn a trip to the Final Four. … Gardner was playing in front of a home crowd. He’s from Suffolk, Va., about three hours south of the nation’s capital. … Marquette assistant coach Jerry Wainwright is the former head coach at UNC-Wilmington and used to match wits in the CAA against Larranaga. … Marquette played on the Verizon Center floor on Feb. 11 and lost 63-55 to host Georgetown.