The Mountaineers, 11-0 for the first time in 52 years, trailed by five inside a minute before hitting a putback bucket and dunk spliced around a pair of Marquette free throw misses on the front end of one-and-one chances. Butler capitalized on the latter, grabbing the rebound and taking the ball down the middle of the floor before spinning once and stepping back to drill a long turnaround that fell through with less than three seconds left.
"I looked at the scoreboard and saw they were only up one. I went to drive before Johnson-Odom stepped in, so I improvised," said Butler, who finished with 17 points to move into 11th place all-time on the school scoring list. "I made the step-back move and put it up."
It went down – as did Marquette's upset hopes.
"I don't use that move much because it gets jumped," Butler said. "But it's there if I need it."
Butler's shot helped him recover from an offensive foul call inside a minute that gave the ball back to Marquette. The Golden Eagles (9-4, 0-1), who defeated Michigan and Xavier this season, among others, couldn't translate the turnover into points as they missed three of their last four free throws. MU's inability to finish mirrored that of WVU's weekend collapse against Seton Hall when it blew a 10-point lead in the final minute only to win in overtime.
"It's a chronic problem," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "We get up seven and we stop running offense. We get up seven and we foul or we put a guy at the line we shouldn't. We have not put anybody away. We don't put anybody away because we lose our discipline and our toughness. It is going to catch up to us. We can't keep going the way we are going."
Especially not in the next game. The Mountaineers go on the road at No. 4 Purdue, which beat Iowa 67-56 in its Big Ten opener to set-up a New Year's Day showdown of top six unbeatens. There are just six teams remaining unbeaten in Division I.
Huggins had said the practices leading up to Marquette weren't exceptional, and the shoot around was mediocre. It showed in the overall performance. WVU again had a sizeable edge on the boards and scored an incredible 40 points in the paint, but didn't rotate well defensively and left Marquette open outside. The Eagles, led by Lazar Hayward's four threes and game-high 24 points, shot 62.5 percent from three-point range and 44 percent overall. Its bench outscored West Virginia's, and it repeatedly turned 16 Mountaineer turnovers into points.
"We're not playing as hard as I usually have guys play, we're not playing as disciplined as I am used to – and it's my job to fix it," Huggins said. "Our job is to make them better, make them do what they do good and not let them do what they don't do good. Accentuate the positive."
Which is the school's hottest start in more than half a century. Kevin Jones continued to shoot well from the outside, nailing both of his threes and scoring a team-high 20 points – including a key putback basket with 39 seconds left to get WVU within a possession at 62-59. Marquette missed a free throw and Devin Ebanks, who matched Butler with 17 points and had multiple key rebounds, drove for a dunk that made it 62-61 with 16 seconds left. Jimmy Butler missed another MU free throw that allowed Butler to win it.
"We got lucky," Ebanks said. "It started in the walk-through. We didn't do well in that and it followed through. … (The dunk) was probably the game changer. They missed and we converted."
West Virginia, now 2-0 in the Big East, trailed by four at the half, but scored the first five points to open a back-and-forth 10-minute stretch in which there were six lead changes and two ties. Neither team lead by more than four through the latter half until Marquette scored consecutive baskets to take a 59-53 lead with five minutes remaining. WVU answered with two straight buckets before MU hit a runner to lead 61-57 and set-up the final two minutes.
The first half was marked by three runs. West Virginia led 16-14 with 11 minutes left before Marquette pieced together an 8-0 push to take a 22-16 advantage. Haywood made one of his four first-half threes and also had a steal and dunk for a three-point play during the run. WVU answered with eight straight points, four off an Ebanks dunk and putback, to retake a 24-22 lead with five minutes left. The Golden Eagles then took the lead at the break via 10 consecutive points over the next four minutes. The 34-27 edge was MU's largest of the game, and the Mountaineers could get no closer than 37-33 at the break, that coming after Haywood and Ebanks both made three-pointers in the final 10 seconds.
West Virginia had nine turnovers at the break and was getting outshot from behind the arc. Only a better overall percentage, an edge in rebounding and one more overall basket kept it within a couple possessions at the half. Jones, who rattled in two three-pointers, had 12 by then and Ebanks scored 11. Hayward had canned six of 10 from the field – including four of six from three – for 17 points.
"It's not the foul shots that did it," Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. "We were eight of 12 from the line. We have to be tough enough to make them, but it was every possession that lost it. It's a complete game. We are competing at an elite level in an elite league against an elite team at their place. You have to do many things right against a Coach Huggins team because they are not going to beat themselves and they are going to be tough."