For the second time in five years, the Davidson Wildcats appeared poised to play the role of Cinderella, the apple of the Big Dance’s eye.
Entering the NCAA tournament boasting a best-in-the-nation 17-game winning streak and featuring both the Southern Conference player of the year (Jake Cohen) and coach of the year (Bob McKillop), the 14th-seeded Wildcats fit the profile of the annual postseason giant slayer like a glove.
Holding a seven-point edge with less than two minutes to play against the third-seeded Golden Eagles of Marquette within historic Rupp Arena, it seemed that anticipation would indeed morph into reality.
However, Vander Blue and the rest of the boys from the Brew City would ensure that Davidson’s season would not extend beyond Thursday afternoon—albeit in dramatic fashion.
Paced by the 6’4”, 200-pound Blue’s seven points over the final 1:33 of regulation, punctuated by a left-handed layup with one second remaining, Marquette used a furious rally late to upend Davidson, 59-58, in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Lexington, Ky.
“We got down by like seven, nobody ever panicked…Nobody missed a beat,” noted Blue, who net a team-high 16 points, according to the AP. “We knew the game isn't over until the clock hit zero.”
And when it finally did, the Golden Eagles (24-8), who shot 34.5 percent for the game, basked into the glory of the program’s fifth triumph in the NCAA tournament victory over the past three seasons.
“Credit Marquette,” cited McKillop, whose club suffered its first loss since Jan. 14, as reported by the AP, “they made three plays down the stretch.”
Indeed, as the Golden Eagles, who accounted for only five assists on the afternoon, found themselves in a do-or-die scenario following a rather forgettable 38 minutes of basketball.
Trailing 25-23 at intermission, Marquette knotted the affair at 38 apiece following a jumper by Davante Gardner with 11:05 to play.
Over the subsequent six minutes, though, MU, who missed 10 of its first 11 field goal attempts to open the contest, would fall victim to a scoring drought resulting in only one basket. Davidson, meanwhile, built a 49-40 edge at the 6:27 mark and put the Golden Eagles (and a nation of would-be bracketologists, for that matter) on upset alert.
Responding with six unanswered points, the blue and gold saw their progress hindered courtesy of a pair of free throw makes each by Davidson’s Cohen and Nik Cochran, respectively.
Following the second of Cochran’s free tosses ripping through the net, the Wildcats, who shot 41.3 percent on the afternoon, led 53-46 with 1:49 on the clock.
At which point Blue and teammate Jamil Wilson sprung into action.
Following two free throws by Blue at the 1:33 mark, Wilson, a junior forward hailing from Racine, Wis., drilled his first three-point basket of the afternoon to winnow the deficit to 54-51 with 62 seconds to play.
After a layup by Davidson forward De’Mon Brooks coming out of an MU timeout, Blue, who was 5-of-15 from the floor for the game, responded by nailing an off-balance three to pull the Golden Eagles to within 56-54 with 27 ticks to go.
Davidson upped its lead to 58-54 with 20 seconds remaining on the heels of two free throws courtesy of Cochran, but watched helplessly as Wilson, who led all bench players with 14 points, sank yet another three-pointer on the ensuing Marquette possession.
Coming out of a timeout following a turnover by Brooks, Blue, who bested St. John’s in MU’s regular season finale with a buzzer beating layup less than two weeks prior, took the ball hard to the hoop and capped an improbable comeback upon the blissful union of nylon and leather.
“It’s the NCAA tournament, and nothing’s coming easy,” said Blue, who scored all but two of his points in the second frame, according to the AP. “If you want to win, you’ve got to take it.”
Next up for the Golden Eagles is sixth-seeded Butler, who handed MU its first loss of the 2012-13 campaign on Nov. 19 during the Maui Invitational, on Saturday.