PHOENIX — Marquette's Jae Crowder was the player of the year in the Big East. Florida's Bradley Beal was the player of the night in Phoenix.
That simple difference is why the Golden Warriors are going home and the Gators are moving on.
Crowder, a senior, closed his college career Thursday night with a rough one — early foul trouble, 5-for-15 shooting, a couple of key misses during a comeback effort in a 68-58 loss to No. 7 Florida in the West Regional.
"I tried to bring something else to the team other than shooting, other than scoring," said the forward, who finished with 15 points. "That's defense somewhat and rebounding. But it wasn't falling for me tonight."
Same for his fellow senior, Darius Johnson-Odom, who also shot 5 for 15 and finished with 14 points.
Third-seeded Marquette, (27-8) exited the tournament in the round of 16 for the second straight year. Buzz Williams' team shot 31 percent and was held 18 points under its season average.
"Anytime you get beat, it's a bailout to just say you didn't make shots," Williams said. "You always give credit to the opponent, the staff that beat you."
That staff is led by Billy Donovan, who will meet his former coach and mentor, Rick Pitino, on Saturday in the regional final.
"These are hard games, because they're such close relationships," Donovan said. "But I do think the game is really about players playing in the game who are going to be competing on Saturday."
While Crowder was struggling, Beal was feeling it. He led the Gators with 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting and also had six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
Erving Walker had 11 for the Gators (26-10), including a 3-pointer that came after Patric Young scrapped for an offensive rebound with 2:05 left. It snapped a 6-0 Marquette run that pulled the Golden Eagles, who trailed by as many as 14, to within six.
Crowder picked up two early fouls and played only 12 minutes in the first half. When he got back on the floor for the second half, he couldn't find his range. He missed two open shots during an 0-for-6 stretch for Marquette midway through the second half.
"We struggled being in rhythm most of the game," Williams said. "Jae has always played more than 12 minutes in a half, but it's dangerous for him to pick up his third, so he sat a lot the half. When you're playing against a team as good as Florida and you're playing without your key guys, it's hard for that rhythm to get established."
In the second half, Beal served up about five perfect examples of what he can do when he steps up a bit. Blanketed by Marquette's Todd Mayo, Beal hesitated, took a stutter step, then breezed past him for a reverse layup that would've made George Gervin proud.
It was the second time he'd blown past Mayo for a layup. He also had a 3-pointer, a couple of free throws and a pretty assist to Young to help the Gators go up 56-44 with less than five minutes left. For cappers, he dunked for the last points of the game, leaving him one short of the high-water scoring mark of his one-year college career.
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