NEWARK, N.J. — For eight minutes, Marquette was doing what it needed to do to give itself a chance of an upset against North Carolina on Friday night.
Scratching and clawing at both ends of the court and aggressively defending the interior, the 11th-seeded Golden Eagles had a two-point lead in the early going. And when 6-7 forward Joe Fulce blocked a shot by the Tar Heels’ 6-10 John Henson, Marquette was on the break and Darius Johnson-Odom went for the momentum three-pointer.
It missed, which seemed inconsequential at the time but ended up starting a drought of epic proportions that turned Marquette’s lead into a North Carolina rout.
Marquette missed its next 10 shots and committed five turnovers, going 8:50 without scoring. That fueled a 19-0 North Carolina run that paved the way for an 81-63 victory in the East Regional semifinals at the Prudential Center.
‘‘We were pitiful in the first half,’’ Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. ‘‘We were completely uncharacteristic in every facet of the game — that’s a complete credit to [North Carolina]. They were outstanding. I knew they were really good. And I thought they played even better than good.’’
Marquette (22-15) was overwhelmed by No. 2 seed North Carolina’s athletic ability. The Golden Eagles shot 6-for-30 from the field, including 0-for-8 from three-point range in the first half, and had no assists in falling behind 40-15. Marquette, which had 11 steals in its upset of Syracuse last week, had one steal in the first half and four for the game against North Carolina.
Johnson-Odom, Marquette’s leading scorer, was held to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting. Davante Gardner led the Eagles with 16 points and Jimmy Butler scored 14 — but they did most of their damage in a futile second-half rally.
‘‘It was very frustrating,’’ Johnson-Odom said. ‘‘They did a great job of taking away our wings and what we were doing in transition. Their inside presence, with [7-0 Tyler] Zeller and Henson — those two guys play great together.’’
Zeller scored 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Tar Heels (29-7), who will play Kentucky in the Elite Eight on Sunday. Freshman Harrison Barnes had 20 points and nine rebounds. Henson added 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks.
‘‘I looked at the scoreboard when it was 10-8 [Marquette], and the next time I looked up it was 40-15 — I knew we were doing very well,’’ North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. ‘‘We got some defensive stops, got our break going. We didn’t shoot exceptionally well. And we were lucky because they missed a lot of shots they normally make.’’
Nothing Williams tried could stem the tide. He called three timeouts during the 19-0 run — plus two TV timeouts — but North Carolina kept building its lead.
The Tar Heels eventually led 51-18 before Marquette battled back, scoring 48 in the second half to close to 69-55 with 4:20 left.
Despite the early shooting woes, Marquette played tough defensively and had North Carolina’s talented-but-young stars out of sync. Gardner backed in on Zeller for a basket — he missed a chance for a three-point play — and Jae Crowder scored on a rebound for a 10-8 lead. At that point, Barnes (1-for-5) and Henson (2-for-6) were a combined 3-for-11.
Then Marquette went 12 possessions without scoring. Once the Tar Heels were comfortable, they turned it on. Marshall threw an alley-oop to Henson. Sophomore Dexter Strickland hit a pull-up 15-footer, Marshall fed Henson for another hoop and Barnes stroked a three-pointer, and suddenly North Carolina led 23-10.
‘‘We just got down, and it was a big [deficit],’’ Johnson-Odom said, ‘‘and we fought and fought and fought in the second half and tried to cut it down as much as possible. But we dug ourselves a hole.’’