Marquette adopted the cozy confines of the 3,700-seat Al McGuire Center for the National Invitation Tournament for the past week, but Tuesday night would be the third and final act to be played at the Al, thanks to an 85-80 defeat at the hands of Penn State.
The Golden Eagles, like every other Division I team, wanted their March basketball to be played in the NCAA tournament, but the NIT provided Marquette fans with at least one silver lining: the unique and fun experience of watching the men’s basketball team in the Al McGuire Center.
Prior to playing University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee there earlier this season in an exhibition match, Marquette had not played in the Al since 2014.
Marquette’s student body returned from break this week, and within 15 minutes of putting 750 student tickets on sale the student section was sold out. A short time later, all 3,700 seats were sold out.
Before the referee threw the ball up in the air for the tip – if you trust the free app I downloaded on my cell phone – the decibel level reached 106.
"Honestly, the noise, it just does something to your adrenaline, it gets you going," former Marquette star Steve Novak said. "Down the stretch, it’s like, you know you need a run and you know the fans are going to be that much louder – it’s like we are going to try to make that push.
"Whatever that does chemically to you it’s real. You want to do something right; you get a little more adrenaline, you jump a little higher. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out tonight, but a home environment this loud with a full house is as good as it gets in hoops."
At the beginning of the game, the fans reacted to each play. Andrew Rowsey’s first 3-pointer brought the cheering to a 105 decibel; a tough goaltending call in the second quarter on Theo John allowed Marquette fans to let the refs know how they felt with boos reaching a 99; when Markus Howard went to the free throw line in the fourth quarter, Golden Eagles’ fans dropped the noise level to an 80, and, as Marquette made a final push in the fourth quarter, the decibel level consistently hovered right around 100.
"There were a few moments it got a little loud, so I had to tell my producer to repeat something because he was talking too softly in the truck," said ESPN play-by-play man Eric Frede.
Over the span of all three NIT games at the Al, the Marquette men’s lacrosse team became something of a sensation, with nearly the whole team participating in cheers and various methods of distraction, such as tugs of war, performing dominos and cow tipping by pushing over several of their teammates dressed in cow costumes.
"We were here for spring break, they played in the NIT for spring break, so we all decided we wanted to come to the games, support the team," sophomore goalie Chris Rofling said. "A lot of people around Marquette supported our team, so we wanted to return the favor and support their team.
"The first time we did it I was thinking at my high school football games we did the roller coaster, so I told a couple of guys that would be fun to do. Then, P.J. Cox was like let’s do it during a free throw and I was like, ‘That’s brilliant.’ So, we did the first one and then we rolled out after that."
Following the final buzzer, Rowsey, Marquette’s lone senior, crouched down with his head in between his hands and slapped the court before returning to his feet, where he was met by teammates’ hugs. As Rowsey exited the arena, his name was chanted by the remaining fans.
And then, just like that, the Marquette men’s basketball season was over.
But, before it ended, we had ourselves some fun.