By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Mar 08, 2009 at 4:51 PM
In time, people will forget that in its final game at the Bradley Center, Marquette's group of seniors struggled from the field and fell in overtime, 86-79, to Syracuse.

When all is said and done, most won't even remember that the Golden Eagles were a potential Final Four caliber team before Dominic James went down with a broken foot. Nor will people remember Dwight Burke's early-season struggles.

For the foreseeable future, Jerel McNeal will be remembered as the program's all-time leading scorer ... but someday, that mark will fall. The same goes for Wes Matthews, whose 520 free throws stand as the best mark. It's inevitable.

In the end, the one thing that will stand out when people talk about James, Burke, Wes Matthews and Jerel McNeal will be -- at least for now -- the number 92.

That's how many games -- not counting the Big East and NCAA Tournaments -- the quartet combined for during their dazzling four-year run at Marquette; the second-winningest senior class in the program's storied history.

"We want to be remembered for being winners," said Matthews.

What a run it was.

Aside from their 92 victories (and counting ...), the seniors combined for 497 games and 417 starts in their four seasons. They've scored 5,490 points, pulled down 1,813 rebounds, dished out 1,351 assists and made 696 steals.

That's just what they've done on the court. They transformed the Marquette program; the 10 largest crowds in the Golden Eagles' Bradley Center history came during their time in Milwaukee, including the new all-time record of 19,144 that paid to see Saturday's home finale.

Applications are up on campus. There is a new wave of building and fund-raising. Certainly, those things would have happened without their presence, but having a winning program making regular appearances on national television goes a long way in convincing donors to open their wallets.

"They've changed the face of Marquette basketball in a positive way," said Williams. "And not only basketball at Marquette, but what they've done for our institution.

"They're going to graduate on time. They're ambassadors of our program and our institution. Their legacy will live here for a long, long time."

It's hard to believe that four years have gone by since then head coach Tom Crean threw the unknown but highly regarded freshman into the fire for the school's maiden voyage through the Big East Conference.

Nobody then could have predicted the group's success that year -- Marquette finished 12-4 in the league- - and to suggest then that this group would rewrite the record books was an absurd proposition at best.

But that's exactly what happened. And as much as the school will always be known for Al McGuire and the 1977 National Championship and Dwyane Wade, Crean and the 2003 Final Four run, it will be this group of seniors that established the Golden Eagles as a modern-day, big-time college basketball program.

They were the first crop of blue chip recruits to join the program in the wake of its 2003 Final Four run. And while the program has been to the pinnacle before, it's this group that is laying the foundation for the program's future.

"They really are the face of the program," said head coach Buzz Williams. "Not just for what they do on the court, but what they've done as young men and what they've done for this institution."

It would have been easy to just pack it up and go their separate ways after Tom Crean bolted for Indiana after last season. Instead, with the possibility of the NBA looming on the horizon, the group closed ranks and helped Williams and their teammates come together for one final run.

That's the type of leadership found only in the savviest of savvy veterans.

"Winning 23 games and the most Big East games in school history says a lot about their talent," Williams said. "But for the transition to be as smooth as it has been ... that says a lot about their character."

It's still fair to wonder what could have been. Matthews missed eight games freshman year with a stress fracture in his right foot. Their sophomore year, McNeal missed the last four games with an injury. And this year, of course, James' broken foot quashed possible Final Four hopes.

That aside, they got the job done.

There were a lot of ovations and thank you's Sunday afternoon, but while it was farewell for now to the Marquette crowds, all four are quick to point out that there is a lot of basketball left to play ... beginning with the Big East Conference Tournament on Wednesday.

"We're not done yet," said James during senior day ceremonies. "We're bringing you with us in our hearts."