LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When the time came for BYU to make a run, Marquette was ready.
Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder came up with big shots every time the Cougars threatened, and the Golden Eagles withstood another furious second-half rally by BYU for an 88-68 victory in the NCAA tournament Thursday. Crowder finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, while Johnson-Odom scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half.
“We knew they were going to come out with a run. They have fight in them like any team in the NCAA tournament, and they did not want to go home,” Crowder said. “We had a lot of poise. We just wanted to overcome it, and I think we did that.”
Brandon Davies had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the 14th-seeded Cougars (26-9), who looked for a brief while as if they might have a chance to top their historic comeback against Iona in the First Four on Tuesday night. But a year after advancing to the regional finals, the Cougars will have to settle for a place in the history books.
Noah Hartsock added 15 points for the Cougars despite playing only 10 minutes in the first half after picking up his third foul.
“I don’t think they played any harder than we did. I don’t think they fought any harder than we did,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “They were just a little better.”
The Golden Eagles (26-7) now play sixth-seeded Murray State in the third round Saturday. The Racers beat 11th-seeded Colorado State 58-41 earlier Thursday.
Marquette is a No. 3 seed for the first time since 2003, back when a guy named Dwyane Wade led the Golden Eagles all the way to the Final Four in New Orleans. Marquette is hoping to make its way to the Big Easy again this year, but the Golden Eagles can’t afford little lapses like the ones they had against BYU.
After leading by as many as 19 in the first half, Marquette’s lead was pared to single digits three times by the scrappy Cougars.
“Everyone was believing the whole time that we could come back,” Craig Cusick said.
Davies, who missed the NCAA tournament last year after being booted from the team for an honor code violation, opened the second half with three straight buckets to get BYU within 10. He drew a charge when he got flattened by Todd Mayo, and Cusick drilled a 3-pointer at the opposite end of the floor to cut the lead to 50-43. It was the first time BYU was within single digits since 12:22 left in the first half.
Marquette didn’t make its first field goal of the second half until the 15:41 mark, a short jumper by Jamil Wilson, and the crisp passing and efficient offense from the first half were nowhere to be found.
But what the Golden Eagles lacked in style in the second half, they made up for with brute strength, overpowering the smaller Cougars. Johnson-Odom knocked down a 3 after the Golden Eagles outmuscled BYU for back-to-back offensive rebounds, and Davante Gardner followed with a finish down low that drew a foul.
Gardner converted the three-point play, and Marquette found itself back up 69-52 with 10:56 left. BYU would never get within single digits again.
“I’m not a home run coach. I didn’t hire home run assistant coaches,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “We just want to be a good pitch team. And I think for the most part, we were able to throw good pitches today.”
Four Marquette players scored in double figures, and the Golden Eagles had a 48-34 rebounding edge. Marquette also made nine 3-pointers, six in the first half.
“Our game plan was to try and keep them away from basket and make them make shots, and they did,” Rose said. “If Marquette makes nine 3s next game, that team is going to have a hard time beating them. If they make nine 3s the game after that, that team is going to have a hard time beating them.
“They were terrific tonight.”
This was probably never going to be a fair fight, not with the Cougars only 36 hours removed from the biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history. BYU beat Iona 78-72 in the First Four on Tuesday night after erasing a 25-point, first-half deficit. The Cougars then drove the 150 miles from Dayton, Ohio, arriving Wednesday.
“It might have been a little bit (of a factor), but we were able to get through the game,” Hartsock said.
The bigger problem was Crowder.
The Big East player of the year personally outscored BYU 9-5 in the first five-plus minutes of the game as Marquette jumped out to an 18-5 lead. He had a double-double before halftime, and he was on such a hot streak that even his mistakes were good. When he took a 3-pointer with about 90 seconds left in the first half, the ball hit the back of the rim and looked as if it was going to carom off.
Instead, it rolled back and dropped through the net for a 47-31 Marquette lead.
“We had chances,” Cusick said. “Marquette did a good job of holding us off.”