The Miami Hurricanes attempted to extend their NCAA Tournament run Thursday night, but came up against a Marquette team that proved too tough.
The Golden Eagles ended the Canes' season, beating Miami 71-61 in their Sweet 16 matchup at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
The Canes failed to advance to the Elite Eight, which remains something no team in school history has ever done.
Meantime, after sweating hrough a pair of edge-of-your-seat comebacks in the NCAA tournament, the Golden Eagles figured out how to put one away early, earning Marquette's first trip to the Elite Eight since 2003.
Vander Blue, who spurred the rallies that beat Davidson by one and Butler by two, finished with 14 points. He wasn't Marquette's leading scorer — that was Jamil Wilson with 16 — but it was Blue's offensive and defensive energy that pushed the Golden Eagles to a double-digit lead in the first half, a spread Miami never came close to making up.
The third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-8) will face either top-seeded Indiana or No. 4 seed Syracuse in the East Regional final on Saturday, aiming for a spot in the Final Foul for the first time since Dwyane Wade took them there a decade ago.
The game wasn't hard to decipher. Marquette could shoot; Miami couldn't. The Hurricanes (29-7) had sentiment on their side, returning to the arena where coach Jim Larranaga led mid-major George Mason University to the Final Four seven years ago, but they made only 35 percent of their field goals and missed 18 of 26 3-pointers.
Marquette, meanwhile, shot 54 percent, a stark turnaround from its 38 percent rate from the first two games in the tournament. Davante Gardner added 14 points, with 12 coming in the second half when the Golden Eagles were comfortably ahead.
Shane Larkin scored 14 points to lead the No. 2 seed Hurricanes, whose NCAA run to the round of 16 matched the best in school history.
The Hurricanes struggled shooting from inside or out. Raphael Akpejiori flung a hook that hit so high off the backboard that it looked better suited for a setup toss in a dunk contest. Miami started 2 for 12, including 0 for 6 from 3-point range, and Larkin's 3-pointer more than 11 minutes into the game was the first Hurricanes field goal scored by anyone other than Kenny Kadji.
Even when the Hurricanes ran a play perfectly, the shot wouldn't fall. Trey McKinney Jones had a nice screen set for him in the final minute of the first half, but his open 15-footer rattled in and out.
For Larranaga, the Sweet 16 appearance marked his return to the arena where his GMU team won twice on its way to the school's first Final Four appearance in 2006.
"I have such great memories," Larranaga said this week. "We tell the players all the time, you create memories, and they've created a lot of great memories for themselves."
"We have seen the highlights of it. It was a great run, it was magical," Miami guard Shane Larkin said of Larranaga's run with GMU. "Hopefully he still has some left in him. Not saying that we need luck, but hopefully he still has a winning touch, and it's going to be fun playing out here in this arena."
The Canes were not considered a Cinderella team like that GMU team, and nor are the Golden Eagles. Marquette took care of business in the first two rounds of the tournament, dispatching 14-seed Davidson (despite being down 5 points with 41 seconds to play) and 6-seed Butler in the opening weekend.
Marquette was in the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season under coach Buzz Williams, but has not made it past that round since Dwyane Wade led the Golden Eagles to the 2003 Final Four.
"I've had enough of Sweet 16s, man, I want to get over the hump," junior guard and leading scorer Blue said Wednesday. "That's why we haven't celebrated much about this. We're happy we won, but we just got back to work and just got back to doing what we do. Just keep grinding."