Depending on who you talk too in Lexington this week, the scale of how lucky Butler Senior Rotnei Clarke’s game-winner over Marquette in the quarterfinal of the EA Sports Maui Invitational ranges rather largely.”The slim chance that it falls,” said Butler’s Erik Fromm. “It can devastate teams or make them. There has been a lot of buzzer beaters this year, and that’s part of the game. Sometimes crazy shots fall.”
Some will say Clarke was lucky, and others tend to think that Clarke has a better chance spotting the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while riding a unicorn instead of replicating it.
“It wasn’t just the shot, or what happened the entire game before the shot,” said Marquette Senior Chris Otule . “I don’t know, he got lucky on a lucky shot.”
Which is what makes Saturday night’s marquee rematch between the #6 seed Butler (27-8) and #3 seed Marquette (24-8) so intriguing, as both teams have already proved that they have pushed each other to the limits this season in an instant-classic. Back on November 19th, down by two points with with seven seconds left, Clarke received a pass right in front of the Marquette bench. With defensive pressure on him from two Golden Eagles, Clarke made a diagonal line towards the half-court line. The Bulldogs Senior than made a crossover on the gigantic EA Sports logo that was planted on the center of the court, made a bee-line straight up to the Butler bench, and then tossed up a Hail Mary of Hail Mary heaves while falling right into Butler’s bench.
“I was the first one to him I think,” said Butler Senior Chase Stigall. “If you look at the play, he kind of fell right into me. I was right there on the bench and I think I was the first one onto him in the dog-pile. We got out of there lucky, and hopefully it doesn’t come down to a one-possession game like that this time.”
Though it’s been four months and three days since the contest, you could hear the hurt in the Golden Eagles voices and frustration on their faces when talking about the shot Thursday afternoon. Which is why Marquette feels like this is the perfect opportunity to wipe the sour taste left in their mouth.
“Most definitely,” said Marquette Junior Vander Blue.
“It still haunts me to that day that we lost that game. If we would have won that game, we would have had a good chance at winning Maui. That’s the only game we lost there, and I think it was the way we lost. That shot that he made, it’s the way we lost. That show was a one in a million shot that he made. I’m just ready for the challenge, the team is ready, and I know Coach Williams is fired up. We are ready to go.”
But the player who hit the shot himself in Clarke, who finished Thursday’s 68-56 victory over Bucknell with 17 points on a rather below average shooting day, knows that one lucky shot that turned into an ESPN commercial doesn’t have anything to do with Saturday’s round three match-up.
“I’m just trying to let people know that the shot has nothing to do with what is going to happen tomorrow,” said Clarke. “I’m just trying to look past that, it seems like it was so long ago. It was a cool experience, but it will be irrelevant for tomorrow.”
Of course, Butler isn’t team playing on Saturday night that is used to late-second heroics. On Thursday night it looked as if Butler would instead be facing #14 Davidson, right up onto the point where Vander Blue dribbled the ball up the court to hit a game-winning layup with 1.8 seconds left on the clock to drop the Wildcats 59-58. The Golden Eagles know they have to put that shot, just as much as Clarke’s game-winner, out of their minds to have a chance against Butler on Saturday night.
“Things sort of fell in place for us when it happened,” said Marquette Junior Jamil Wilson. “But we have to have that hardhat mentality that at midnight, it is over with. We have to go back to work the next day, and here we are getting ready for practice.”