It has been four years since the Marquette Golden Eagles won on their senior day.
Each year, players such as Wesley Matthews, Dominic James, Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler have dealt with the frustration and pain of losing their last home game in college. However, when Marquette (No. 8 AP/No. 7 USA Today) hosted the Hoyas of Georgetown (No. 11 AP/No. 12 USA Today) on Saturday, seniors Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder set out to change all that, and change it they did.
The Golden Eagles hounded Georgetown, scoring 24 points off 14 turnovers and got to the free-throw line 45 times. The star duo of forward Crowder and guard Johnson-Odom combined for a total of 43 points with Crowder pulling down a career-high 14 rebounds along with recording five steals. With his 17 points in Saturday's game, Johnson-Odom has scored in double figures in every game he has played in this year, save the game against West Virginia two weeks ago when he was suspended for the first half.
Crowder's stat line of 26 points, 14 rebounds and five steals against the Hoyas may win him Big East Player of the Week honors for the third week in a row.
With this 83-69 victory, Marquette finished the season undefeated at home in Big East play, locked up second place in the conference and finished with its best record (14-4) in Big East play since joining the conference in 2005.
The Golden Eagles' success this season is directly linked to the play of their two incredible seniors in Johnson-Odom and Crowder. Their leadership and stellar play this year has won them All-Big East first-team selections and placed both of them as front-runners for the Big East Player of the Year Award. Johnson-Odom leads the team and ranks second in the conference in scoring with 18.3 points per game while Crowder ranks third in the Big East and second on the team with 17.6 points per game. Crowder also ranks second in the Big East in steals, averaging 2.4 a game.
Marquette's tenacious transition offense and two star seniors have made the team a legitimate contender for the Big East Championship and dark horse candidates for a Final Four run. With Crowder being well known for causing matchup problems and Johnson-Odom being a consistent double-figures scorer, the tandem has led the Golden Eagles to a place among college basketball's elite.
Marquette also received good news with the entrance of forward Davante Gardner into the game on Saturday. Even though the big man's knee was still giving him some trouble, Gardner scored eight points and recorded eight rebounds in just 15 minutes of playing time. Gardner's scoring ability gives Marquette yet another weapon down low, and Marquette coach Buzz Williams no longer has to lean on forward Jamil Wilson, who has played well in Gardner's absence, to play big minutes and risk getting fatigued.
Another strong sign of Marquette's game is that the team can win games despite a lack of three-point shooting efficiency from time to time. Golden Eagles teams of the past few years have sometimes lived and died by the three ball, but after going just 2-of-12 from behind the arc against Georgetown, Marquette showed it is less reliant on outside shooting to win games, thus signifying it as an offensively balanced basketball team.
On the defensive side of the ball, Marquette presses opposing teams and forces them to turn the ball over using its speed to make up for its lack of size. The Golden Eagles use their trapping defense to generate their offense, which causes opposing teams to commit bad fouls while trying to slow down Marquette's players. The Golden Eagles lead the Big East in visits to the charity strike with 750 free-throw attempts.
With a balanced and potent offensive attack, a strong defensive press and fantastic senior leadership, there's no doubt the Golden Eagles are special. This team is the deepest the program has been in years, and from the starters to the bench, everyone contributes and everyone plays hard. In front of a sea of gold and blue, Marquette made its loyal fans proud and sent its seniors off the right way.
There is still more basketball to be played, but the Golden Eagles will be ready to dance, make no mistake about that.