Another season has come and gone for the Marquette men’s basketball team as the Golden Eagles’ Sweet 16 appearance and 22-15 overall record (9-9 in Big East) exceeded many preseason expectations.
Not only did Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler earn all-Big East honors along with a new contract for head coach Buzz Williams, but the Marquette student section comprised of nearly 8,000 Fanatics on any given gameday turned in an impressive season-long performance too.
The second oldest active arena in the NBA, The Bradley Center, hosted 18 Marquette home games this past year that brought 280,545 total fans through the turnstiles or an average of 15,586 per contest. In the most hyped rivalry game of the season that saw Marquette fall to the Wisconsin Badgers 69-64 on Saturday, Dec. 11, a sellout crowd of 19,074 fans were in attendance. Despite the early season setback, fans stayed committed through the ups and downs of a rugged Big East conference schedule and on Saturday, Jan. 29, the Golden Eagles captured a quality win at home by a score of 76-70 against Syracuse in front of 19,032 blue and gold supporters on National Marquette Day, marking the second largest home crowd of the season.
Newcomer and former National JUCO Player of the Year Jae Crowder, who averaged 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season for Marquette, had only positive things to say regarding what he likes about playing in the Bradley Center.
“I like that it’s an NBA court,” said Crowder. “It gives you a different atmosphere from a college basketball standpoint. You get a different vibe and feeling as you walk into the Bradley Center.”
Freshman Fanatic Spencer Bonahoom, who on average waits three hours outside of the Bradley Center prior to a game, believes that the Marquette players do feed off the energy and atmosphere of the home crowd on gamedays.
“I think the home games definitely give them a lot more energy,” said Bonahoom. “There’s not a lot of teams that have this many seats for the crowd so playing in this NBA arena definitely helps the noise level go up when we have a sellout. You can tell that the intensity picks up when the stadium starts to get loud and that all starts with the student section.”
Crowder also added, “That is when everything is at your best. You play hard and you feed off the crowd when you’re tired. That’s real college basketball when the crowd gets involved.”
And that one player who Bonahoom believes is the heart and soul of the Marquette team, none other than junior forward Jae Crowder.
“Crowder has been a huge addition,” states Bonahoom. “He always brings the intensity, he seems to get the key rebounds when we really need them, and of course he has been quite the scorer for us.”
Bonahoom, who can often be seen in the front row of the Marquette student section leading the cheers and wearing a gold shirt, gold shorts, wristbands, long socks and his infamous “We Are Marquette” bandana, has truly enjoyed his first full season as a Marquette Basketball Fanatic and the unique benefits and entertainment at the games.
“I like a lot of the pregame stuff,” admits Bonahoom. “Turning around when they introduce the opposing team, clapping back and forth right before the tip-off, and just all the chants and the yelling. It definitely gives it the great atmosphere that you have here.”
An assortment of giveaways, including each a yellow and baby blue Marquette basketball shirt as well as a special Father Wild shirt and bobble head, have surely kept students coming back to games too thanks to a fabulous effort by the Marquette promotions staff.
Buzz Williams, who will enter his fourth season as head coach with the Marquette Golden Eagles next year, making in excess of $2 million annually, is also very thankful and appreciative of the encouragement that the student section and fans give to his program. Prior to home games at the Bradley Center this past season, Williams has made it a priority to enter the court through the tunnel near the Marquette student section and either clap or shake the hands of the front row of fans and waving to the remainder as he proceeds towards walking to his team’s bench. In addition, Buzz has periodically bought and hand delivered donuts and pizza to the crowds of students waiting in line hours before the doors to the arena had even opened.
The dedication of the Marquette University freshman class in particular at the basketball games this winter has been nothing short of spectacular and the passionate Fanatics have even made the extra effort over Christmas break to show their support as they cheered on the Golden Eagles to a 73-65 victory over Rutgers at The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey back on Jan. 5. Two Yonkers natives and Marquette freshmen, Joe Naber and Kevin Dolan, both saw the game in-person and had great experiences in doing so.
“Since I’m from New York, I know a lot of kids from the area and one friend was able to get me a ticket there,” said Dolan. “He brought a few of our friends from high school and he wore some of his Rutgers stuff, but I of course went with my trademarked Marquette t-shirt that the Fanatics get. I was actually sitting in their student section with a Marquette shirt on and it was kind of funny because Joe Naber, another fellow Fanatic who is from the same area, was also there and he got a picture of me on the other side and you can see this one little speck of gold sitting in the student section and it was me.
Although the game was not nationally televised, during halftime locally on Time Warner Cable Sports 32, the camera zoomed in on Naber and his autographed Marquette hard-helmet by the entire Golden Eagles’ basketball team that he wears to every game.
“I was sitting exactly across from the student section and their student section is behind the hoop as well,” said Naber. “Their student section was pretty packed. It was during break, but Rutgers is a state school so they had students who do live in the area. It was definitely a fun game to be at.”
When comparing Marquette’s student section to Rutgers, both Naber and Dolan were shocked at how different the gameday experience was.
“I was probably one of maybe 20 or 30 Marquette fans there so I was definitely the minority, but that athletic facility is very nice and it’s really small,” said Naber. “It definitely is a different experience from the Bradley Center and that place did get loud, but it’s still a lot louder here.” Simply put, “their student section is nothing like the Marquette student section,” stated Dolan.
The amount of support that the Marquette basketball players receive from the fans cheering on the team in the stands and off the court by sending encouraging messages via Facebook or Twitter is yet another benefit of being a student-athlete at a unique university in Marquette that is built around the tradition of basketball and the 1977 NCAA Championship won by legendary head coach Al McGuire.
“It’s big” said Crowder. “Marquette really evolves around basketball and you can tell from a player’s standpoint as you play here that everyone notices you, everyone knows you, everyone looks up to you, they speak to you, and they’re behind you, so just being here at Marquette I love it.”
And that support continued all throughout the NCAA Tournament as the team was welcomed back to campus by approximately 25 fans and members of the media at the Al McGuire Center at 2 a.m. following their 66-62 win over Syracuse to advance and clinch a Sweet 16 berth. Numerous team send-offs, viewing parties, and the upcoming postseason banquet on Wednesday, April 13, to honor the success of this past season and the graduating seniors are just a few instances to describe the loyal fan base that Marquette basketball is happy to be apart of.
“I love the team and I love when we win,” said Bonahoom. “So at the end of the game when you know that we got the game in hand and everyone starts chanting ‘We Are Marquette,’ nothing beats that feeling. The place is rocking, the ‘We Are Marquette’ chant is going, and that’s the best feeling there is.”
by Ryan Ellerbusch
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