LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Marquette has perfected the art of the comeback.
Down late yet again, Jae Crowder scored six points during a decisive 14-2 run, and the third-seeded Golden Eagles pulled away from Murray State for a 62-53 victory Saturday that sends the Golden Eagles into next weekend's West Regional semifinals.
Crowder finished with 17 points, 12 in the second half, and also had 13 rebounds. Darius Johnson-Odom also had 17 for Marquette (27-7).
"When you're playing a team like Murray State, they're going to keep throwing punches and throwing punches, and you have to find a way to slow them down," Johnson-Odom said. "We did a great job of that today."
Isaiah Canaan had 16 points and six rebounds for the sixth-seeded Racers (31-2), who fell just short of their first trip to the regional semifinals for the second time in three years. This one is sure to sting, too, even if it wasn't as gutwrenchingly close. Murray State lost to Butler 54-52 in 2010 when Gordon Hayward forced a Canaan turnover with about 10 seconds left.
The Racers have come a long way since. They won their first 23 games of the season, were the last team in the country to lose and showed against Marquette they can play with anyone.
"We proved today that we belong, and we belonged on a national stage," Racers coach Steve Prohm said. "We just weren't good enough the last seven minutes."
Give Marquette some credit for that.
Despite a decided size advantage – Prohm joked Crowder and Johnson-Odom were missing spring practice somewhere – the Golden Eagles could never quite get in sync against the speedy, aggressive Racers. That Marquette was essentially playing a road game couldn't have helped. Plenty of Racers fans made the three and a half hour drive for the game, and Kentucky fans jumped on the bandwagon in a show of state solidarity. When Jewuan Long made a layup to put the Racers up 46-41 with 7:43 to play, the crowd responded with the kind of roar usually reserved for that other Kentucky team.
But the Golden Eagles had plenty of practice at rallying during the regular season, when they came back to win six games after trailing by 11 or more points, and never doubted they could come back against the Racers.
"Eight minutes," Johnson-Odom said, "is like 30 minutes."
Todd Mayo made a pair of free throws, and Crowder banked in a jumper off the glass. Davante Gardner, who missed eight games at the end of the season with a left knee strain, followed with a layup and a pair of free throws to put Marquette back in front 49-46.
Ivan Aska briefly halted the Marquette run with a putback, but the Golden Eagles kept right on going. After another Gardner layup, Crowder took a charge and then came down to the other end and coolly drilled a 3, sending the outnumbered Marquette fans into a frenzy.
Even the university president, the Rev. Scott Pilarz, was pumping his fist and screaming, "We are! Marquette!"
"We were a couple plays from closing the game out, and I just wanted to make the next big play," said Crowder, the Big East player of the year. "I really wanted to make that play defensively, and it worked out in my favor. I just wanted to try to get a steal, a charge, a rebound, something. I just wanted to make that play. I knew at that time it was big in the game, and it was the next big stop that we needed."
Crowder added another free throw before Long was able to end a four-minute scoring drought. But it was too late. The Racers were just 2 of 12 with five turnovers over the last 7:43.
"I told them in the locker room that I just – I wish I could have figured out a way to get them through the last seven minutes," Prohm said. "I don't think we wore down. We've got a tough, resilient group ... We just didn't finish some plays on the offensive end that we had to do in order to withstand some of their run-outs and some of their execution, and we didn't."
Long finished with 12 points, and Ed Daniel tied a career high with 14 rebounds. Murray State shot just 31 percent, including 9 of 35 in the second half.
Donte Poole, Murray State's second-leading scorer, managed only seven points, half his average. Poole was playing with a nose broken by an inadvertent elbow during Thursday's game.
"We thought we would come out with a win," Poole said. "So for it to end like this, you're upset, but you've just got to look at all the great things we've done this season, as well."
Marquette now looks to Phoenix, where it will play the winner of Norfolk State-Florida on Thursday. The Golden Eagles also made it to the regional semifinals last year before getting routed by North Carolina, and many expect them to go further this year now that Missouri is out of the way.
Not that the Golden Eagles want to hear any of that.
"I think it's even harder," Johnson-Odom said, who began shaking his head as soon as he heard the word "Missouri. "I don't think those seeds really mean too much of anything for us. We were an 11 seed, and we weren't expected to do anything last year. I think for us we're going to just have to stay focused on what we want to do, what's the goal for our team, things that we've been doing to continue the success we've been having."
Follow Nancy Armour at http://www.twitter.com/nrarmour