Davidson beaten at its own endgame
Marquette's epic comeback on Thursday was pure ... well, Davidson.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- We've seen this before. Davidson in March, seeded lower because it's Davidson and it's from the Southern Conference and because Davidson will always be an underdog in the first round of the NCAA tournament. On paper, anyway.
We've seen it before -- Davidson the underdog, Davidson winning. Beating Marquette by 10 in the first half and by nine in the second half and by smaller numbers most of the way in between. We've seen senatorial Davidson coach Bob McKillop strolling the sideline and we've seen the Davidson band in its red-and-white rugby shirts, playing for a small cadre of Davidson students wearing sunglasses and what appear to be Burger King hats, having fun because rooting for Davidson in the NCAA tournament is fun.
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We've heard this before, too. The Davidson band revving up to play "Sweet Caroline," the song coming in the second half, the crowd waiting for it, waiting, waiting. No less a Davidson fan than Steph Curry, star of that magical run in 2008 -- when Davidson beat Gonzaga, then Georgetown, then Wisconsin, then very nearly Kansas in the Elite Eight before Kansas won and then won the national title -- tweeting midway through the second half, "Don't let us have the lead after 8 minute media timeout when the band cracks open a little Sweet Caroline!!!!"
That happened. That tweet, I mean. Well, and so did the Davidson band cracking open a little "Sweet Caroline" after the eight-minute media timeout, with Davidson leading 47-40.
Seen it before. Heard it before. And since you have, you know how this story ends. It ends with Davidson winning, because Davidson doesn't lose games like this. Davidson had won 17 games in a row entering the NCAA Tournament, getting on a roll after muddling through a difficult non-conference schedule featuring the likes of Gonzaga, Duke and New Mexico.
Thing is, Marquette hadn't seen it before.
Marquette didn't care.
And so it was Marquette that won this game, Marquette and not Davidson making the huge plays in the final minute and Davidson, not Marquette, making the huge mistake. At the end it was a 59-58 victory for Marquette in this East region opener thanks to a flurry of points in the final minute, 11 for Marquette in the final 63 seconds when the Golden Eagles made three of their four 3-pointers on the game.
You catch that? Marquette made one 3-pointer in the first 39 minutes. It made three in the final 63 seconds. Plus the shot of the game, by Vander Blue, a driving basket with one second left that stunned to silence the mostly Davidson-leaning, upset-loving crowd.
Blue's basket followed the biggest mistake of the game for Davidson, with six seconds left, when Davidson led 58-57 and got the ball inbounds and then, with junior forward De'Mon Brooks in possession of the ball, doing something risky. Rather than waiting for the foul and trying his luck at the foul line, where he is shooting 76.9 percent on the year, Brooks spotted Nik Cochran about 60 feet away, near the sideline in front of the Davidson bench. Brooks threw a pass that could have sealed the game, had it been accurate and Cochran been able to control it and dribble out most of the remaining six seconds. But the pass wasn't perfect. It was headed out of bounds, and Cochran did what he could to handle it but he could not. Turnover. Ball to Marquette.
Brooks knew what he had done. He didn't react right then, because there was still a game to be played, a game to be won. But when the winning was done by Marquette, by Blue who hit that shot with one second left and then stole the ensuing inbounds pass at the buzzer, Brooks reacted. He crouched deeply at midcourt, slapped the court in disgust, and then walked to the end of the Davidson bench. As Marquette's team came down the sideline for the postgame handshake, Brooks lifted his jersey and covered his face. Marquette coach Buzz Williams waited for Brooks to lower his jersey, then shook his hand and patted his chest three times, above his heart.
A few minutes later McKillop and two Davidson players were sitting at the podium, trying to explain how a game Davidson doesn't lose ended with this loss. As Davidson star Jake Cohen (20 points in 29 minutes) and Cochran (11 points, just three field-goal attempts) answered questions, McKillop stared angrily at a spot on the table, at nothing. Eventually he leaned back and stared up into the bright TV lights, blinking but not looking away, because what the hell? Davidson lost. The season was over. Blink.
McKillop was equal parts angry and gracious, lashing out when asked about a late look at the monitor by officials that gave Marquette -- which didn't have a timeout -- a quick tutorial from Williams before the final sequence in the final six seconds.
"Unfair advantage," McKillop said.
But then when he was asked what happened down the stretch, asked how his team that doesn't lose games like this could lose a game like that, McKillop left the officials alone and applauded the opponent.
"They had to make great plays to beat us," McKillop said, "and I thought they did."
Yes they did. Marquette made the great plays, not Davidson. Come to think of it, we've seen that before, too. Marquette has won six NCAA Tournament games in four years under Williams. Beat Butler on Saturday, and the Golden Eagles are in the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row.
Meantime, there was something I've never seen before. Buzz Williams met the media, then walked off the podium and into the company of his two young sons. They were walking back to the locker room when they saw Jamal Mashburn. Williams' kids wanted a picture with the former Kentucky and NBA star. Williams, minutes removed from a last-second win over the Goliaths from Davidson, held the camera and pushed the button.
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