When Jae Crowder hit a 3-pointer against Murray State last Saturday afternoon to give Marquette a late six-point lead, I got a feeling of confidence and inevitability that I have only gotten once before in my life.
That was nine years ago, around this time of the year, too. Interesting how that works. Even after as intense a game as I’ve ever seen, one where Marquette easily could have folded, I realized there was never any doubt the Golden Eagles would win.
I also found myself saying the same type of things about Crowder that I was saying about a medium-sized fella’ named Dwyane Wade nine years ago. That 11-year-old me really knew a thing or two about basketball.
In case you haven’t figured it out, this year’s Marquette team sure is reminding me a lot of the 2002-’03 squad Tom Crean led to the Final Four.
During the 2003 NCAA Tournament, I never thought Marquette was going to lose. Even when they were struggling to beat 14th-seeded Holy Cross in the first round or were taken to overtime in the next round by Missouri, there was always someone who would step up, and Marquette would win. In the first round it was Travis Diener, and in the second it was Steve Novak.
In the end, though, it always came back to Wade.
This year, it seems like it always goes back to Crowder.
After taking his second charge of the game in the second half, I told my mom: “He does everything.”
I told her that three times, feeling ‘everything’ didn’t do Crowder justice. He was playing great defense, blocking shots at crucial times and finding himself in the right place at the right time for any loose ball to tally yet another steal. Then, after one of his worst outside-shooting performances, he came up with the biggest shot of the game, his aforementioned 3-pointer that put the Golden Eagles up by six, giving Marquette fans some breathing room for the first time.
Whenever Marquette needed a big play at that point in the game, it was the dreadlocked senior stud that came up with it, just like Wade would.
I haven’t even mentioned Darius Johnson-Odom or Davante Gardner, also key to the comeback last Saturday. With those two capable of scoring whenever needed, along with Todd Mayo’s resurgence and Junior Cadougan’s ability to put scoring opportunities on a silver platter, Marquette is set for a memorable weekend.
I have little reason to think that this weekend won’t end like the Sweet Sixteen weekend of 2003 did for the Golden Eagles.
I know I’m doing a nice job of probably jinxing them by writing this, but this team has a special feeling about them. No matter what they do, they’ll find a way to win when it really matters. They’ve shown a killer instinct Marquette fans have been dying for, one that hasn’t been seen from the Golden Eagles since nine years ago.
Teams like that make history. I believe this team will be playing in New Orleans come March 31st, and I know for a fact that I’m not alone in thinking this.
The signs are there, and that feeling is there. Granted, they have laid an egg or two this season with losses to Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Louisville, but in a situation like this, with their leadership, that type of performance is not an option.
So no matter what you think of the players and whether you like them or not, when they make it to the Final Four, get ready to celebrate their accomplishment like it was 1974, 1977, or even 2003.
I want Marquette students invading Wisconsin and Wells like they did nine years ago, and I pray that people miles away hear “We are Marquette” late into the night.