LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The best news for BYU at halftime Thursday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center was that it trailed by 15 points.
That's because things could have been considerably worse than that — not to mention the Cougars also faced a 15-point deficit at intermission against Iona in their epic NCAA tournament-best comeback Tuesday.
Could lightning strike twice for BYU?
No, not this time.
Third-seed Marquette wasn't about to get Iona-ed out of the tournament.
While BYU rallied again, it wasn't enough, and the No. 14 seed Cougars suffered a season-ending 88-68 setback to the Golden Eagles.
BYU trailed from start to finish, falling behind early and trying to play catch-up the rest of the way.
"When we made a run at them, they always seemed to come back with a big shot, a big basket somewhere," said coach Dave Rose. "I'm proud of our guys for how we battled. I thought we had a lot of opportunities that we could have converted here or there. We could have got over the hump and maybe challenged them there at the end. Marquette was just too good today."
Led by Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder, who poured in 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, Marquette jumped all over the Cougars from the outset, seizing an 18-5 advantage, which mushroomed to 35-17. The Golden Eagles led by as many as 19, 42-23, with five minutes left in the first half.
BYU senior forward Noah Hartsock played only 10 minutes before picking up his third foul and being forced to sit on the bench for the rest of the half.
"It's frustrating. You always want to be out there to help your team," Hartsock said. "Just made some foolish errors on my part. They played great defense. It's tough being on the bench and watching your team play. In the second half I wanted to come out and play as hard as I could. We made some runs, but not enough to get the victory."
The Cougars made some headway late in the first half, scoring seven consecutive points to cut the deficit to 11. But Marquette appeared to recapture the momentum when guard Junior Cadougan drove the length of the court and scored a layup at the halftime buzzer to make it 49-34.
But Golden Eagle coach Buzz Williams knew what was coming.
"We're up 15 at half, made a really big play the last possession of the half, and I told our team, as soon as I walked in (the locker room), 'Their coach was supposed to die of cancer. They're not going to quit. And you guys watched the game on Tuesday. They're not quitting.'"
Certainly, the Cougars didn't quit.
Hartsock remained on the bench for the first five minutes of the second half. Without him, BYU continued to battle, as Brandon Davies, who scored 19 points and had 12 rebounds, scored the Cougars' first six points of the half. They whittled the deficit to six, 52-46, after 3-pointers by Craig Cusick and Charles Abouo.
"We knew they were going to come out with a run because they have fight in them like any other team in the NCAA tournament," said Crowder. "They do not want to go home. We just wanted to have a lot of poise, didn't want to get too carried away. Just wanted to continue to do what we do and that got us the lead. We knew it was coming. We just wanted to overcome it, and I think we did that."
After BYU fell behind again by 12, Hartsock scored six straight points to bring the Cougars to within eight, 60-52.
But every time BYU pulled to within 10 or less, the Golden Eagles responded with a big play, or run, of their own.
"They outplayed us. They're a great team," Davies said. "It came down to our effort once again. We gave up too many offensive rebounds. We made a few bad decisions that cost us a couple of possessions we wish we had back."
Crowder helped thwart several BYU's comeback attempts. He had six offensive rebounds and knocked down three 3-pointers.
"He's a very versatile player, very skilled," Hartsock said. "He can shoot the ball. He can get in there and rebound. Just a very aggressive, strong player."
Other Golden Eagles plagued the Cougars as well. Guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who finished with 20 points, hit a big 3-pointer after two offensive rebounds kept a possession alive with 11:30 remaining to give Marquette a 14-point lead.
Later, Todd Mayo buried a 3-pointer after BYU's Matt Carlino missed a jumper, stretching the lead back to 13 as opportunities continued to slip away for the Cougars.
Then there was forward Davante Gardner, who had 15 points off the bench.
"We cut it down below 10 a few times," said Cusick. "Unfortunately, Marquette did a good job of holding that lead that they had because they're a good team and well-coached. But just proud of the way everyone played tonight and how hard everyone fought."
The Cougars were outrebounded by Marquette, 48-34, and the Golden Eagles had 16 offensive rebounds. They outscored BYU 18-5 in second-chance points and 36-22 in the paint.
"We knew they were a really aggressive offensive rebounding team, but so was Iona, but a little different," Rose said. "These guys were a lot more physical. I think they had nine offensive rebounds in the first 10-11 minutes and then we kind of righted the ship. The last 10 minutes, we did a pretty good job of keeping them off the glass."
Meanwhile, the Cougars shot poorly, hitting just 23-of-61 field goal attempts.
"We shot 38 percent from the field tonight. It's difficult to win an NCAA tournament game at 38 percent," Rose said. "And a lot of that has to do with Marquette's game plan and their defensive presence. But we had a lot of open looks that I think our guys will spend a lot of time this summer working on so that we can become a better shooting team next year."
BYU finished the season with a 26-9 record. Marquette will face No. 6 seed Murray State on Saturday in the Round of 32.
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