WASHINGTON, D.C. - For all the homecoming and warm fuzzy memories that University of Miami coach Jim Larranaga has of the Verizon Center, it was Buzz Williams and Marquette that made it a night to remember. With a suffocating defense and interior dominance, the Golden Eagles sent the Hurricanes back to South Beach with a 71-61 loss from the NCAA east regional semi finals, a Verizon Center, Georgetown's home court.
Marquette, who earned a share of the Big East regular season title, used the relentless defensive pressure that is a staple of their conference, to disrupt the rhythm of the ACC regular season and tournament champions. While many argued that Miami should have been a number one seed, it was clear from the outset who was the better team on this night.
The Eagles conference pedigree and the tenacity of their defense rendered Miami's offense ineffective from the start. Marquette held Miami to 22 of 63 shooting for the game. They opened a 12-4 lead during the first 7:35 of the opening half and built a 29-16 lead at the break and the game was basically over.
Marquette harassed the 'Canes by trapping guard Shane Larkin and forcing him to give up the ball. When Larkin set teammates up for open looks the defense was able to recover just enough to disrupt them. The Eagles also pounded Miami on the defensive glass out-rebounding them 26-16. That limited Miami to few multi shot possessions which magnified the loss of their starting center Reggie Johnson.
"Basically the game plan was to get the ball out of Shane Larkin and Durand Scott's hands and make the other guards try to beat us," said Marquette guard Junior Cadougan. "We had the mindset to defend. The game plan for them, just do it and execute. The guys are mature enough to do that".
Miami's ride this season hit a pothole in the Nation's Capital after tough week. The Canes lost Johnson to a knee injury which forced surgery and he didn't make the trip. Durand Scott took a shot to the face in practice and was held to 10 points making just three of his 13 field goal attempts. Larkin, who had been their maestro all year couldn't find any rhythm, after contracting a stomach flu which kept him up until 3 a.m. Thursday morning. He finished with a pedestrian stat line of 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists.
"We just weren't 100 as a whole team," Larkin said. "But we're not going to make any excuses with those ailments. They had a great game plan and executed. It would have been different if we had been making shots".
However, the real sign of things to come was the trip from the hotel in downtown D.C., normally a 10 minute ride, took them 45 minutes. Combine that with a ferocious defensive performance by Marquette and it was the perfect storm that sent them back to South Florida.