Dominant Marquette now must deal with a mid-major darling

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Marquette forward Jae Crowder (32) goes to the basket against the defense of BYU’s guard Anson Winder (20), forward Brandon Davies (0) and guard/forward Brock Zylstra (13) in the first half of their NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – BYU coach Dave Rose has a short piece of advice for Marquette’s future NCAA tournament opponents when it comes to handling Golden Eagles senior star Jae Crowder.

“I would say ‘Good luck playing him’,” Rose said. “The best way is probably not to let him touch the ball.”

That didn’t happen Thursday, as Crowder and the Golden Eagles dominated their second-round game against the Cougars from an 18-5 run at the start to the 88-68 final score. Crowder’s production – 25 points, 16 rebounds and four steals – might have seemed a one-man show, but in truth the No. 3 seed Golden Eagles (26-7) were a fully functioning unit.

“I’m definitely a feel-type human, and I thought there was a great vibe [on the team] this morning,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “I could sense it.”

Marquette advances to Saturday’s third round to face No. 6 seed Murray State, one of this season’s mid-major darlings with a 30-1 record and No. 12 ranking in the final AP poll – one below the Golden Eagles.

“I think they’re America’s team,” Williams said of the Racers. “They’ve been ranked ahead of us except for a few weeks. I think America roots for them. We’ll definitely be a hunted team.”

But the Golden Eagles showed they can overcome adversity after a dismal one-and-done performance a week ago at the Big East tournament. In getting eliminated by Louisville, the Golden Eagles committed a season-worst 26 turnovers, with Crowder, the Big East player of the year, having an uncharacteristic subpar game.

“I was frustrated and disappointed in myself and the way we played, but looking forward to the next game, which was the NCAA tournament,” the senior forward said.

The Cougars, who staged a dramatic comeback over Iona in the first round, had no answer for Crowder, as well as senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom (20 points, five rebounds, four assists) and sophomore forward Davante Gardner (15 points, six rebounds off the bench.)

The Cougars trailed 49-34 at the half, but as they did against Iona, they cut the deficit to six at 52-46 with 15:26 remaining on Charles Abouo’s three-point basket. But the Golden Eagles responded with an 8-0 run.

“I told our team [at the half], ‘they were down by 25 and ended up winning [against Iona]’,” Williams said. “Their coach was supposed to die of cancer. They’re not going to quit.’ Good teams will make runs.”

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