For the final time, Marquette played a meaningful basketball game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, its home since 1988, and what a game it was. The Golden Eagles concluded their regular season on Saturday afternoon against Creighton with a thrilling 85-81 win, closing out the building they spent three decades in with a fitting three-point barrage.
It didn’t start out feeling much like a nostalgic or celebratory affair, with the stands about 90 percent filled, the student section sounding subdued – at least compared to a few of the Golden Eagles’ prior matchups against higher-profile opponents – and only some perfunctory video montages and on-court tributes during stoppages. Perhaps the lack of pomp and circumstance was intentional; after all, Marquette is just moving down the street, into the new Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center with the Milwaukee Bucks next season.
Early on, the game on the floor also did not seem up to the historic moment, with sloppy offense, players crashing into each other and the teams combining to shoot 2-for-13 on 3-pointers after the first timeout. At halftime, Creighton led 42-37, and fans emptied the arena bowl into the concourses.
But in the second half, the notoriously streaky Golden Eagles caught fire from outside. From the 15:36 mark onward, Marquette made an astounding 10 of 12 three-pointers, with sophomore sharpshooter Markus Howard hitting four of the first six, then senior sniper Andrew Rowsey – the team's only one on Senior Day – nailing three straight in the final 3:20. Sam Hauser and Jamal Cain also chipped in, the Golden Eagles converted their free throws and the defense clamped down on the Bluejays.
All the while, and especially as Rowsey's three consecutive three-pointers fell in over an 80-second stretch late in the game, Marquette's supporters – in particular, a student section maligned at times this season for apathy during a disappointing campaign – came alive, and the suddenly deafening Bradley Center shook like it did during the days of Dwyane Wade.
In the end, Rowsey and Howard combined to make 11 of 18 three-pointers and score 51 total points, and Hauser added 18. With the victory, their fourth in their final five games, the Golden Eagles finished the 2017-18 regular season 18-12 (9-9 in the Big East), though they probably will have to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA tourney.
Still, with Marquette’s 12 banners, including that of the 1977 National Championship, hanging from the Bradley Center rafters, the band playing spiritedly and the crowd enlivened in the second half, Saturday’s game became a highly enjoyable one for a fan base happy to be there for the historical occasion, but ecstatic to see the building out with a win.
As a thank you to the more than 6.5 million Marquette fans who visited the venue over the past three decades, the program and the Bradley Center partnered to offer special $2 concessions for those in attendance. MU asked people to use the hashtag #Celebrate30 on social media to share their favorite moments. After the game, messages of appreciation were shown on the Jumbotron, and fans snapped photos around the arena.
The win over Creighton ended a season in which the Golden Eagles fell short of their major goals – finishing outside the top half of the Big East standings, likely missing the NCAA tournament for the third time in head coach Steve Wojciehowski’s four seasons and headed for the NIT, barring conference tourney results – but it's worth remembering that they experienced a lot of success in the Bradley Center.
Over the past 30 years, Marquette won more than 75 percent of its 502 games in the building (386-116). The team had a winning record at home every season since its first year, including three undefeated seasons (in 1995-96, 2001-02, 2012-13), and it has ranked in the top 25 in final attendance each of the last 16 years.
Some particularly memorable highlights, flashed on the big screen during the game, included Marquette legend Tony Smith scoring 43 points on his Senior Night in a victory over Butler in 1990; local hero Steve Novak putting up 41 points and 16 rebounds in an upset win over No. 2 Connecticut in the Golden Eagles’ first game as a member of the Big East in 2006; a live bat flying around and causing such a disturbance that the Bradley Center had to shut off the lights in a Marquette win against Providence in 2013; and, last year, beating No. 1 Villanova, with the fans storming the court.
Afterward on Saturday, Marquette thanked the crowd for its support over all the past seasons, this season and the next one, as the Golden Eagles transition to the Bucks arena. And they, as well as their fans, will have a great memory of their final game at this old venue when they move on to their new one.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.