CLEVELAND—Marquette never trailed and used a 13-3 run to close the first half in taking down the Xavier Musketeers 66-55 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Eagles were led by junior Darius Johnson-Odom, who finished with 19 points, and senior Jimmy Butler, who scored 15 points while using textbook defense to shut down Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway.
It was a defensive clinic in the first half for Buzz Williams' bunch, holding the Musketeers to just 31 percent shooting from the field and 20 points. Holloway, who entered the game averaging 20.2 points, was scoreless in the opening half, missing all five of his shots thanks to Marquette's stifling defense on ball screens.
"I think when you play against a great player like [Tu] you have to be locked in," Johnson-Odom said of his defensive mindset. "He's a great player off ball-screens, he creates for others, and he puts his team on his back. We know if we take him out, it's going to be hard for them to do what they do best."
Point guard Mark Lyons was also a non-existent in the first half, picking up two quick fouls and then adding a third right under the 8-minute mark.
Xavier coach Chris Mack said Lyons' early foul trouble threw off his team's rhythm offensively.
"It certainly hurt our offense with Lyons being in foul trouble early," Mack said. "He's one of our primary ball handlers and takes a lot of pressure off of Tu, in terms of getting the ball to the spots we need to be effective on offense."
As good as Marquette was on the defensive end in the first 20 minutes, it also scored 13 points in the final 4:11 to extend the lead to 33-20 by halftime.
"I thought in the first half we were really good," Williams said of his team. "We gave them zero points in transition and guarded their ball screens really well."
The second half was more of the same, as Marquette continued to deny Holloway and Lyons off screens, forcing them outside the perimeter rather than allowing them to drive to the hoop for easy buckets or foul shot attempts.
The Musketeers, who receive 24.6 percent of their points from the free throw line on the year, attempted just 15 free throws, making 11, and shot just 2-of-13 from beyond the arc in the loss.
Xavier made two runs in the second half that cut the lead to single digits, but both times Marquette had a response to extend the lead.
After Holloway connected on his first and only made field goal with 12:13 left to cut the lead to 47-36, Butler ended Xavier's 7-0 run with a turnaround jumper in the post, followed two possessions later by a Davante Gardner layup.
Then, with just under nine minutes remaining, Xavier again made a push that closed the gap to 51-43, but senior Joseph Fulce drew a charge on Holloway, and Johnson-Odom answered on the other end with his fourth three pointer of the night.
Xavier senior Andrew Taylor scored a career-best 16 points while 7-foot center Kenny Frease added 12, but it wasn't enough for the Musketeers, who will go home prior to the Sweet 16 for the first time in four years.
For Williams and the Golden Eagles, they pick up their first NCAA Tournament win since a 2009 win over No. 12 Utah State. Coach Williams is just happy to be moving on.
"I thought collectively we played really well," Williams said of his team. "I thought that we executed the scouting report and that we responded when they began a run. We're thankful to still be playing."
Jae Crowder came off the bench and had a hard-earned 10 points and six rebounds, while Dwight Buycks finished with eight points of his own.
Walk-on Rob Frozena also saw the first NCAA Tournament action of his four-year career at Marquette.
Marquette will now face third-seeded Syracuse for a trip to the Sweet 16 on Sunday. The Orange took down No. 14 Indiana St. 77-60 in the second round behind 23 points and seven rebounds from forward Rick Jackson. Marquette defeated its fellow Big East foe 76-70 at the Bradley Center on Jan. 29.
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