WASHINGTON – In a college basketball planet where loyalty goes as far as a ticket to the NBA draft, there is still a team like the Marquette Golden Eagles. There is still a team that turns every possession into a death battle with collapsing double-teams, arms upraised and even a firm shove when the officials aren't looking.
And there is a team with a rumpled, bald-headed coach who screams and stomps a lot and goes by the none-too-flattering nickname of "Buzz."
On Thursday night, third-seeded Marquette swarmed the second-seeded Miami Hurricanes with a relentless defense in a 71-61 Sweet 16 victory in the East Region of the NCAA tournament. Really, Miami stood no chance. The team that had been so strong in the ACC looked lost against a team from its old conference. Again and again, Miami tried to pass down to its big men only to have that player surrounded by a forest of hands. Passing out did little good. Most of Miami's long shots or three-pointers were challenged, too.
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For most of the game, Miami's shooting percentages hovered in the 20s and low 30s as Marquette chased every pass and contested almost every shot. It didn't even matter that the Hurricanes outrebounded them 38-28.
Nothing much worked for Miami after Marquette coach Buzz Williams ripped off his coat less than five minutes in. It was almost a symbolic act. The game was still close and the Eagles had not been shooting well. After he shed his coat, the Eagles pressure grew more ferocious.
Four Marquette players scored in double figures, including Jamil Wilson with 16 and Vander Blue and Davante Gardner who had 14 each.
Miami's best player Shane Larkin had 14.
Sadly for Miami, the dream held by an experienced team coached by a man, Jim Larranaga, long overlooked as one of the better basketball minds around, ended in the most ironic of places. Larranaga coached for 14 years at George Mason, located only a few miles away in the Virginia suburb of Fairfax. In 2006, his George Mason team beat top-seed Connecticut in this building to go to the Final Four.
Miami's bench was in the same spot on Thursday as George Mason's was that day against UConn. The Hurricanes band even played "Livin' on a Prayer," the song George Mason's band played endlessly that afternoon. No prayers would be answered this time.
The magic of that afternoon was lost in a swarm of blue and gold jerseys that weren't going to let it happen to them.
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