Marquette hangs on to knock off Pitt, 77-74

Golden Eagles have date in final 8 with Kentucky

Midwest Regional

March 28, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - Without a Super Bowl title since January 1980, it was already apparent that the rugged Steel Curtain defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't translate to this generation.

Marquette's 77-74 win over Pittsburgh in the Midwest Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last night at the Metrodome proved the moniker doesn't work particularly well with college basketball, either.

Having heard enough about the tough defense of the second-seeded Panthers, the third-seeded Golden Eagles shredded it in the second half, shooting 57 percent and making it to the free-throw line 19 times.

"We took that very personally," Marquette guard Dwyane Wade said. "For our offense to be good all year, and our defense just as good, we just knew that we could score. We could make shots."

Wade scored 19 of his 22 points after halftime, and Scott Merritt and Robert Jackson had 17 and 16 points, respectively, to give the school a chance for its first Final Four appearance since winning the national title in 1977.

Marquette will play top-seeded Kentucky tomorrow, with the winner advancing to the Final Four in New Orleans. The Wildcats beat fifth-seeded Wisconsin, 63-57, last night.

Marquette students stormed the court after the Golden Eagles hung on to a 10-point lead to end Pittsburgh's 11-game winning streak.

But before beating Pittsburgh (28-5), Marquette came with rather weak credentials for a Final Four candidate.

After all, the Golden Eagles (26-5) came into the NCAA tournament off a Conference USA tournament loss to Alabama-Birmingham. Then they struggled in a win over Holy Cross, before Missouri took them to overtime.

So Marquette didn't look like a juggernaut compared to the Panthers, who were sixth nationally in scoring defense and had hammered its NCAA victims until last night.

The Golden Eagles nearly became another victim. The Panthers, who got 16 points from Brandin Knight and 15 from Chevon Troutman, moved to within a point at 75-74 on two Knight free throws with 15 seconds left. But Merritt responded with two free throws of his own that were the difference.

The Panthers had one last shot, but Knight's three-point attempt from the top of the key hit the rim and fell into the hands of Marquette point guard Travis Diener.

"Pitt made some tough plays, and they caught us a couple times," Marquette coach Tom Crean said. "We were able to make the plays at the end of the game, offensively and defensively, that led to the win."

Down 17-8 halfway through the first half, Marquette rolled back with a 14-4 run, getting scoring from five different players to take a 22-21 lead with 5:36 to go.

Troutman got eight points for the Panthers over the final 4:08 of the half. But it was back and forth between the two teams until halftime, which ended with the score tied at 34.

Wade took over near the beginning of the second half, scoring or playing a role as the Golden Eagles scored on six straight possessions. The first two were assists to Jackson, then Wade knocked down three straight jumpers that were followed by a dunk for a 49-42 lead with 14:48 left in the game.

At the 9:55 mark, there was a play Wade made that was reminiscent of the NBA Jam video game, with him stumbling away from the basket while flipping the ball over his shoulder. The shot went in.

"I know that I'm blessed to be able to do what I can do on the court," Wade said. "But that was also a little bit of luck there."

Led by Knight and Jaron Brown, the Panthers tried to stay close. But for much of the half, there weren't any cold streaks on the horizon for Marquette, which went ahead 64-54 with 7:39 to go when Diener found Merritt for a layup.

"It's hard to swallow this loss," said Knight, who played his final college game. "For me, this game is hard to swallow because this is it for me. I thought we had the talent and personnel to continue on."

Wade has led Marquette's resurgence in Crean's fourth year. After a 15-14 mark in each of Crean's first two seasons, the Golden Eagles went 26-7 last year and won the Conference USA regular-season title this year.

"We know there's more ahead," freshman Steve Novak said. "And we have to get back to work."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

MARQUETTE-Townsend 1-2 0-0 3, Merritt 4-6 9-11 17, Jackson 6-8 4-6 16, Wade 10-19 2-3 22, Diener 2-8 0-2 4, Bradley 2-4 0-0 6, Novak 3-6 0-0 9, Chapman 0-0 0-0 0, Sanders 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-54 15-22 77.

PITTSBURGH-Brown 5-10 4-6 14, Zavackas 2-2 0-0 5, Lett 2-7 2-2 6, Page 5-11 1-2 12, Knight 6-13 2-2 16, Troutman 6-7 3-3 15, Krauser 2-4 0-0 4, Morris 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-55 12-15 74. Half-34-34. 3-point goals-Marquette 6-12 (Novak 3-5, Bradley 2-2, Townsend 1-2, Wade 0-1, Diener 0-2), Pittsburgh 4-14 (Knight 2-7, Zavackas 1-1, Page 1-4, Brown 0-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Marquette 28 (Townsend 5), Pittsburgh 30 (Brown, Lett 6). Assists-Marquette 16 (Diener 8), Pittsburgh 18 (Knight 11). Total fouls-Marquette 18, Pittsburgh 19. A-28,168.

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