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Tyler Kolek of Marquette celebrates after making a 3-pointer against  Villanova during the 2nd half on Jan. 30, 2024 at the Finneran Pavilion at Villanova University. (Charles Fox/Tribune Content Agency)
Tyler Kolek of Marquette celebrates after making a 3-pointer against Villanova during the 2nd half on Jan. 30, 2024 at the Finneran Pavilion at Villanova University. (Charles Fox/Tribune Content Agency)

Clutch shooting pushes No. 2 Marquette to the Sweet Sixteen over No. 10 Colorado

In a back-and-forth game, Marquette held on to win against a talented Colorado team

INDIANAPOLIS — Marquette was given a scare late, but the Golden Eagles weathered the storm and beat Colorado 81-77 in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. This advances MU to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2013, something that Tyler Kolek said was “a long time coming” for his team. He and his teammates were resilient in this one, stopping several Buffalo runs late in the game by using great defense and limiting turnovers.

This one started out in Marquette’s favor, as the Golden Eagles were firing on all cylinders early. Kam Jones hit three early 3s, allowing the Marquette fans to get into the game and make their presence known. Jones said, “our fans are great, we really feel their support” about the MU faithful in Indy, something that comes with playing so close to Milwaukee.

Marquette ended the half up 34-23, shooting a very impressive 19-for-28 from the field and 6-for-13 from 3. MU also had 10 team assists in just the first half, meaning over half of their buckets were assisted by teammates. This is a huge part of Marquette’s game, Kolek mentioning that “it's not really anything new” in regards to his team’s pass-first attitude.

In the second half, Colorado got things going and made it a game instantly after the break.

“We just all had the mentality of, ‘I'm not giving up,’” Buffaloes star K.J. Simpson said.

This showed, as the Buffs tied the game less than five minutes into the half and kept it close for the rest of the half.

Marquette, though, held tough even when Colorado made its runs, using Kolek as the main focus of offense. He ended the game 10 of 14 from the field and was electric in the paint, making shots over much bigger Eddie Lampkin Jr. down the stretch. Kolek said the “big fella switched and I was getting to my spot and just floated it up,” describing one instance late in the game where he made a hook shot in the paint. This style of play may not be common for Kolek, but in a game where he did not make a 3, it showed his ability to make adjustments to help his team win.

While Kolek may have not been hitting 3s, his teammates certainly were, as Ben Gold and Chase Ross both hit clutch 3s late in the game that secured the Golden Eagle victory. Ross mentioned that head coach Shaka Smart has a saying that was in his head as he made a clutch 3-pointer that broke a tie late in the game.

“Coach always preaches, ‘eff-it shooting,’ so when I got it, it was ‘eff it,’ and it went in,” Ross said.

Ross did not score in the first round game against Western Kentucky, but his impact was felt in this one, notably because of this huge bucket.

Colorado, though, fought until the very end and showed how tough of an out they are.

“I thought we had our chances at the end,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. “Had some good looks, didn't go in. It's disappointing. But I love this team, I love these guys.”

March Madness is full of great teams and, while it wasn’t the Buffaloes’ day, they have a lot to be proud of.

Marquette was up by two with just seconds remaining and David Joplin stepped up to the free-throw line. He nailed both the free throws, sealing the victory for MU. Smart described these two shots as “two huge, huge free throws” and they certainly were, clinching a Sweet Sixteen berth for Smart’s team.

In this one, the Buffs got good performances from several players, one being Simpson, who followed up his showing Friday with a 20-point game Sunday. Tristan da Silva also had a great game, scoring 17 points and shooting 3-for-7 from 3. Lampkin Jr. was, per usual, solid inside, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Cody Williams, the freshman, had 12 points to round out the double-figures scorers for the Buffs. All these guys played hard and while it didn’t end the way they wanted, they can say they all showed up on the biggest stage.

Marquette head coach Shaka Smart reacts to second-half action against Western Kentucky during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Friday, March 22, 2024, in Indianapolis. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images/TNS)

Marquette has similarly great performances out of its guys, with Kolek leading the way. He scored 21 and assisted 11 times in his second double-double in as many games for the tournament. Jones had 18 points for the game, making a team-high four 3-pointers. Joplin also had a solid game, scoring 14 points and making the two clutch free throws that sealed the game. Ross had 12 and Oso Ighorado had 10 as the final double figures scorers for Marquette.

This one was another March classic and one that Marquette fans and Colorado fans alike should remember for years to come. MU, though, has its sights set on NC State, its Sweet Sixteen opponent, as the Golden Eagles try to advance all the way to the Final Four. As for this game though, both teams should be proud of the way they played, even though Marquette was the team that got the win with great ball movement and clutch shots.

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