Following a Senior Day win over Georgetown in which he finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds and five steals, Jae Crowder said he was “on cloud nine.”
But just when he thought his senior season couldn’t get any better, Tuesday afternoon the Big East announced Crowder had been awarded Big East Player of the Year.
“I’m past cloud nine,” Crowder said. “I’m any cloud in the sky. I’m on an atmosphere right now.”
The 6-foot-6 senior is Marquette’s first recipient of the award since the Golden Eagles moved to the Big East conference in 2006. He finished fifth in points, seventh in rebounds, second in steals and was one of the most efficient players in the country.
Big East Commissioner John Marrinato presented Crowder with the award, noting both his skill and passion on the court.
“Adding to all of his production, all of you know he plays with great spirit and enthusiasm,” Marrinato said. “Let me say, you are in great company in winning this award.”
Past winners include NBA Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and St. John’s Chris Mullin. Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough won the award last season.
Crowder saved his best basketball for the end of the season, averaging 24.6 points 9.1 rebounds and 3.0 steals over his last six games. He was the key ingredient to a Marquette team that won 14 conference games and finished second in the Big East, both program bests since the Golden Eagles joined the conference.
Much of Crowder’s acceptance speech Tuesday at Madison Square Garden focused on the help and support his teammates gave him throughout his historic season.
“Without the opportunity of my coaches and players giving me the opportunity to exploit my skills, none of this would be possible,” Crowder said. “It means a lot to the university. It means a lot for me and my family.”
Head coach Buzz Williams agreed, noting that Crowder’s consistent hard work combined with his supporting cast created one of the best individual Marquette seasons.
“I don’t think you win any individual award without what a team does,” Williams said. “And I think that all of our guys helped Jae get to this point. Having said that, if he had not been accountable for his work he wouldn’t be in that position.”
The final votes were not released, but Crowder presumably beat out Marquette teammate Darius Johnson-Odom and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones for the award. Johnson-Odom was second in the Big East in points per game and led the conference in 3-point shooting. Jones, considered the frontrunner for much of the year, led the Big East in points and rebounds, something only three other players had ever done.
One major difference between Crowder and Jones was team performance. Jones and the Mountaineers struggled to a 9-9 Big East record and lost in overtime to Connecticut on Wednesday in the second round of the Big East Tournament.
Crowder also dominated the head-to-head matchup against Jones. Playing without three starters in the first half, Crowder finished Marquette’s 61-60 win at West Virginia with 26 points, four rebounds and two steals. Jones finished with 12 points on 5 of 14 shooting, and six rebounds.
Crowder and the Golden Eagles will play Louisville in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament tonight in search of their first-ever Big East Tournament championship.
“I want to thank my head coach for giving me the opportunity, my teammates for coming to fight with me each and every day, for helping me learn the game even more,” Crowder said. “Hard work pays off.”