MU did more than anyone could have hoped

It’s too bad this is how Marquette’s finest season in a decade had to end.

A futile effort — the Golden Eagles just couldn’t score in a 55-39 loss to Syracuse in the East regional final — will temporarily overshadow a season of surpassed expectations and milestones reached along the way.

So much for Marquette’s experience against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 matchup zone defense. The Golden Eagles (26-9) tried to shoot over the zone. Not a good idea when Marquette simply isn’t a good outside shooting team.

Outside shooting, particularly 3-point shooting, has been Marquette’s biggest flaw from the beginning of the season. The bad thing about flaws is they usually come back to bite a team at the worst possible time. Shooting just 22.6 percent from the field and 3 of 24 from beyond the arc, Marquette scored its fewest points since 2005 and the fewest in a NCAA tournament regional final since 1973.

It was a far cry from when Marquette put up 74 points against Syracuse’s defense in three-point victory over the Orange in Milwaukee on Feb. 25.

“I don’t think anything was different,” Marquette guard Vander Blue told reporters. “We just were not making shots we usually make. We couldn’t get stops, they were really good on the glass. I don’t think anything was different from when we played them in Milwaukee.  We made a lot more shots in Milwaukee, and we did a lot better job on the glass.”

Saturday’s loss is painful to everyone associated with the Marquette program but no more painful than a five-point loss would have been. This only opens the door for those who haven’t watched the Golden Eagles on a consistent basis to have a little fun with the futile offensive performance.

But when the dust settles and Marquette wakes up on Easter Sunday, the Golden Eagles and their fans should look back at this season as one of the most memorable in school history. Sure, Marquette has won a championship and made the Final Four and Elite Eight multiple times, but  no team exceeded expectations like this one.

Two All-Americans were gone and drafted into the NBA from a Sweet 16 team. Marquette, as it usually is, was picked to finish far back — this time seventh — in the Big East. That prediction seemed sure to be fulfilled in December when the team scored just 47 points in an upset loss at UW-Green Bay.

Marquette responded by winning 14 Big East games and a share of the league crown. Then came this magical ride in the NCAA tournament.

I’ll be the first to admit I was preparing to write the season obituary from my seat at Rupp Arena as Davidson went up nine with under six minutes to play in the Round of 64. The focus of that column would have been the same as this one. And it would have been written without a single win — much less three — in the NCAA tournament.

So after the school’s deepest postseason run since making the Final Four with Dwyane Wade in 2003, this column has to focus on the positives of this season rather than the performance that ended it.

Many stories were written this season about how the Golden Eagles lacked a go-to player, didn’t have a future NBA player and lacked the talent of many teams they were beating, and though there may be some truth to all that, it isn’t how this group should be remembered.

The lasting legacy of this team should be how it persevered through adversity, was resilient after defeat and simply how tough of a unit it became.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams told reporters. “It’s been a whole lot of fun.  If you think back to (the preseason), that’s where our team is formed. Not just on the floor, that’s where our team is formed off the floor, during fall break. Marquette has a fall break which is just a miniature spring break, and we go out in the woods where the cell phones don’t work and there are not any TV’s.

“I remember those things more so than I remember who we played or where we played because I think it’s those things that put us in a position to play games such as this, so I distinctly remember it.  I think the chemistry and the togetherness combined with the toughness of this group is as good as I’ve ever been around.  It’s been a lot of fun to coach them.”

And while the players deserve a large portion of the credit for the team they became, Williams put on a coaching clinic this season.

With a recruiting class coming in ranked sixth-best in the country by Scout.com and leading scorers Blue, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson all returning, the future of Marquette basketball is bright.

And if Williams stays in Milwaukee, it’s not too far fetched to think there’s a possibility the Golden Eagles will someday be cutting down the nets.

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