Butler Stuns Marquette with Buzzer-beater
By Rodney S. Yap
If the first game of the 29th edition of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational is any indication of what’s to come over the next two days, tournament officials can expect television ratings to spike to record numbers.
Butler senior Rotnei Clarke scored 20 points, the last three on a 24-foot prayer at the buzzer to beat Marquette, 72-71, before a standing-room-only crowd of 2,400 at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Clarke’s game-winner, a one-handed runner off one foot with a Marquette defender draped all over him, landed him in front of his team’s bench where he was immediately piled on by teammates as Bulldog fans went hysterical.
ESPN2 replayed Clarke’s buzzer-beater from every angle, and each replay cause viewers to shake their heads in disbelief. Again, the lights, cameras and action at Lahaina’s Civic Center seemed surreal — except it literally happens every year before folks get their annual turkey fixings.
“It was just kind of a scramble play,” said Clarke, the Arkansas transfer who sat out last year and finished with 20 points and six rebounds. “I was dribbling around, and I almost thought about flipping it to Roosevelt Jones who was going down the lane line just to have him drive and make a play, ended up keeping it, and got through and got around a couple of guys, and just let it up there, and luckily it went in.”
Butler will face North Carolina on Tuesday in the first semifinal game at 3 p.m.
Afterwards, Butler coach Brad Stevens said, “I’ve been working on that one with him,” to the media with a straight face.
The game was a see-saw affair that included eight lead changes and was tied five times – the last time at 67-67 with 65 seconds remaining in the game.
“My hats off to Marquette,” Stevens said. “People are going to analyze who won and who lost. This was just two teams playing hard to the wire. I told our guys, if we lose that game, it doesn’t make me feel differently about them or make me feel differently about our effort. It’s just tougher to swallow.”
Butler’s Khyle Marshall finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, the last one triggered Clarke’s final possession with eight seconds on the game clock.
When asked if his team could have played any better on defense against Clarke, Marquette head coach Buzz Williams shook his head and remarked, “I don’t think so. He shot it off one foot from behind his head, from 40 feet. It was contested. As soon as the ball left his hand, I knew it was a basket. The trajectory and everything was perfect.”
Marquette , which out-rebounded Bulter 37-34, was led by Vander Blue’s 21 points in 37 minutes. His last 3-pointer at the two-minute mark, gave the Golden Eagles’ a five-point lead, 67-62.
“I’ve been in this game long enough to know that there are very few thrills like a buzzer beater, especially one off one foot,” Stevens said. “But I also know what it’s like to be on the other side.
“I don’t think we had a turnover in the second half, that is unbelieveable and a compliment to the guys handling the ball and to our other guys for being aware that the guys handling the ball could use some extra help.”
Williams felt good about the way his team battled and never gave up.
“I thought it was a great game. We have the utmost respect for Coach Stevens, for Butler, for their players. We’re disappointed in the loss, and encouraged by how hard our guys played.
“I think any time you play in an environment like this you learn a lot. . . . I think number one I’m pleased with how hard Vander played. I didn’t think he got out of his element. I think he took one bad shot. I think he’s growing in his confidence.”
Marquette got solid play from its bench with Davante Gardner adding 12 points and seven rebounds, while transfer Trent Lockett contributed nine points and five rebounds. The Golden Eagles’ bench outscored Butler 28-2.
No. 9 North Carolina 95, Mississippi State 49
The Tar Heels had 12 players score at least two points and was led byLeslie McDonald’s 21 points. P.J. Hairston added 18 on 4-of-7 from behind the arc, in 15 minutes of playing time. Reggie Bullock added 16 as head coach Roy Williams substituted freely, with no one playing more than 23 minutes.
North Carolina led 49-17 at halftime and went ahead by as many as 49 points with two minutes left in the game.
Because of injuries, the Bulldogs suited up just eight players. Six of the eight players scored, with Roquez Johnson leading the way with 12 points and seven rebounds.
“Right now the easiest thing to say is that we had more bodies, for sure,” said Tar Heels’ Williams. “We wanted to try and make it a fast tempo because Mississippi State’s numbers are down, which those kids played awfully hard.
“We just had too many players for them, and everybody started feeling good, and the ball kept going in the basket. So you feel for them. “