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Marquette survives Colorado's upset bid, breaks Sweet 16 slump

Mar. 24—INDIANAPOLIS — Marquette is headed to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 11 years.

The second-seeded Golden Eagles (27-9) held off a furious second-half rally from 10th-seeded Colorado (26-11) for an 81-77 victory Sunday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

"I'm just so grateful to our guys, the way they hung in there," Marquette coach Shaka Smart said. "Colorado made a heck of a run. That's about as good of a 10 seed as I've ever seen in my life. We started watching tape a couple days ago, and we said, 'Who made these guys a 10 seed?' No disrespect to anyone."

A Chase Ross 3-pointer with 2:52 remaining broke a 74-74 deadlock and put Marquette in front to stay.

The Golden Eagles erased the heartbreak of 2023 when Michigan State scored a 69-60 second-round upset in Columbus, Ohio.

Tyler Kolek was just 2-for-8 from the floor and finished with seven points in that loss to the Spartans, but the first-team All-Big East selection had a star turn against the Buffaloes.

Kolek led Marquette with 21 points, 11 assists and five rebounds, and his hook shot in the lane with 55 seconds to play restored the Golden Eagles' three-point lead at 79-76.

"Even for this group, we feel like it's been a long time coming," Kolek said of the Sweet 16 berth. "That first year didn't go how we wanted. Second year certainly didn't go how we wanted, and then coming back this year we had a vengeance.

"I told the guys before the game, 'This moment has been in our nightmares, and we're not running from it anymore.'"

Cody Williams made just the second of two free-throw attempts for Colorado with 21 seconds to go, and Marquette was able to bleed 14 precious seconds off the clock before David Joplin clinched the victory with a pair of foul shots at the 7.4-second mark.

Marquette controlled the game in the opening 20 minutes, taking a 45-34 advantage into the halftime locker room. Kam Jones was the engine behind that surge, scoring 16 points and shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point range.

But foul trouble kept Jones on the bench for long stretches in the second half, and he added just two points to his total while missing all four of his 3-point tries after intermission.

Colorado used a 10-2 run to quickly get back into the game after the break.

A 3-pointer by Tristan da Silva — who finished with 17 points — tied the game at 52-52 with 15:22 remaining.

And the Buffaloes took the lead on a trifecta from KJ Simpson — Friday's hero with the game-winning shot in a 102-100 victory against Florida — at the 14:41 mark.

"We knew we weren't playing our best game," da Silva said of the halftime mood. "It kind of felt like we were supposed to be down 20 or 25 the way we were playing. We kind of had a sense or had a feeling that it was in our hands to kind of turn this game around, and we had all the confidence to come out in the second half and battle the way we did."

The Golden Eagles seemed to stabilize after that and led 64-59 with 10:34 to play after Jones' only basket of the second half.

But Colorado again clawed back.

A da Silva bucket tied the game at 64-64 with 9:37 to go, and it was tight the remainder of the way,

Kolek's jumper with 4:49 left put Marquette back up 74-69, but the Buffaloes answered with a layup by Williams and a 3-pointer by da Silva to again draw even with 4:02 to go.

"I thought we had our chances at the end," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "Had some good looks, didn't go in. It's disappointing. But I've got a lot of respect for Marquette. They're a hell of a team, hell of a program.

"But I love this team. I love these guys. I love those guys in that locker room. They've got nothing to hang their heads about. They competed their tails off, not just here in Indianapolis but in Dayton (Ohio for the First Four) the other night, in the Pac-12 Tournament, since basically the middle of February."

Simpson led Colorado with 20 points and seven assists. Eddie Lampkin Jr. added 13 points and a game-high seven rebounds, and Williams added 12 points off the bench.

Joplin finished with 14 points and five rebounds for Marquette, and Ross (12) and Oso Ighodaro (10) also finished in double-figure scoring for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette will face 11th-seeded North Carolina State (24-14) in the South Regional on Friday in Dallas.

"I'm grateful for our fans," Smart said. "One of the things about Marquette is there's a high standard here. The games, and particularly this time of year, are so incredibly meaningful to the folks that have followed our program for so long. Going back many, many coaches — I got a text today from Mike Deane wishing me luck, and it just kind of made me think of all the coaches and players that have come before us to give us an opportunity to sit up here."