WASHINGTON — Vander Blue’s buzzer-beater came at the end of the first half. For a change, Marquette didn’t need one at the end of the game.
After sweating through a pair of edge-of-your-seat comebacks in the NCAA tournament, Blue and the Golden Eagles figured out how to put one away early, earning Marquette’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 2003 with a 71-61 win against Miami on Thursday night.
Blue, who spurred the rallies that beat Davidson by one and Butler by two, finished with 14 points. He wasn’t Marquette’s leading scorer — that was Jamil Wilson with 16 — but it was Blue’s offensive and defensive energy that pushed the Golden Eagles to a double-digit lead in the first half, a spread Miami never came close to making up.
“It’s amazing, man,” Blue said in a postgame television interview. “Everybody said this team wasn’t any good.”
The third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-8) will face either top-seeded Indiana or No. 4 seed Syracuse in the East Regional final on Saturday, aiming for a spot in the Final Foul for the first time since Dwyane Wade took them there a decade ago.
Wade, the Miami Heat star, tweeted congratulations to coach Jim Larranaga and the Hurricanes — as well as his alma mater.
“Congrts on an amazing season for coach L and the canes … after 3 tries in the sweet 16 we finally figured it out. Congrts,” he posted.
Marquette was knocked out in the round of 16 the past two years.
The game wasn’t hard to decipher. Marquette could shoot; Miami couldn’t. The Hurricanes (29-7) had sentiment on their side, returning to the arena where Larranaga led mid-major George Mason to the Final Four seven years ago, but they made 35 percent of their field goals and missed 18 of 26 3-pointers.
“We just shot the ball so poorly,” Larranaga said, also lamenting some injuries that hindered his team’s preparation this week. “When you can’t put the ball in the basket, you really have a hard time staying with a team like Marquette.”
Marquette, meanwhile, shot 54 percent, a stark turnaround from its 38 percent rate from the first two games in the tournament. Davante Gardner added 14 points, with 12 coming in the second half when the Golden Eagles were comfortably ahead.
Shane Larkin scored 14 points to lead the No. 2 seed Hurricanes, whose NCAA run to the round of 16 matched the best in school history.
The Hurricanes played without backup center Reggie Johnson, who had surgery Tuesday for a minor knee injury. Johnson was averaging seven rebounds, but he would have helped only if he could’ve put the ball in the basket.
Miami’s loss was similar to its early-season defeat to now-famous Florida Gulf Coast, when the Hurricanes shot 26.7 percent (8 of 30) in the first half and 29.1 percent (16 of 55) for the game.
Officials allowed the game to be physical. Eight fouls were called in the first half.