Marquette impossible to beat at home

MILWAUKEE — While talk about how Milwaukee needs a new basketball arena dominates local chatter, Marquette University’s men’s basketball team has proven the old building still has a bit of magic left in it.
The Golden Eagles have won 24 consecutive games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the second-longest home winning streak in the nation. With a victory in their home finale Saturday afternoon against No. 21 Notre Dame, No. 22 Marquette can finish its home slate undefeated for the first time since 2001-02.  
And though the average attendance of 14,762 is the lowest for Marquette since the 2005-06 season, the Bradley Center has been as loud this season as it has been in a long time. 
“It just changes the entire ambiance completely,” said Marquette coach Buzz Williams, whose team is 15-0 at home and 20-7 overall this season. “I’m not one of the coaches that will ever say, ‘I wish we had more fans or I wish we did that.’ People have to pay to come, and if they want to spend their money to come, so be it.”
Fans, alumni and students have embraced the culture Williams has created at Marquette and have turned the Bradley Center into an incredibly tough place for opponents to play. 
“I’m blue-collar and my team is blue-collar,” Williams said. “What I know about this city and this state, I think they respect blue-collar workers. When you get 15,000 to 18,000 people in there that are fired up and respectful of how you work, it is definitely encouraging to your kids in ways you can’t encourage them in a timeout or in a locker room.”
Acoustically, the Bradley Center – which opened in 1988 as the home for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks — has always had the ability to get really loud at certain moments. On Monday, No. 12 Syracuse experienced just how raucous the arena can get when the Golden Eagles came from behind late to win.
It’s evident Marquette plays differently feeding off the energy of its fans. The Golden Eagles look like a two seed in the NCAA Tournament at home but have seemed like a nine or 10 seed on the road. 
“I think it is a great environment,” Williams said. “I thought (against Syracuse) you could feel the spirit of the crowd before the jump ball. If you are going to have a chance to win at anything, you have to win at home and win half your games on the road. If you do that you are going to be in the mix for something.
“The streak we’ve been on, I don’t know if we would have been a high seed in the NCAA Tournament without the streak.” 
Williams hasn’t talked to his players about the home winning streak – second only to South Dakota State’s 30 consecutive home wins – but they all know about it.
“It’s huge,” forward Jamil Wilson said. “The support we get from everyone here is just great. Our fellow students come out and support us no matter what. It could be cold outside and they’ll be camping out if it’s a big game. Homework due the next day, whatever it may be, they make us a priority. 
“The best thing we can do from them is give them a win. It’s actually an escape from school, that’s what it’s kind of for. We try our best to let them have fun for a couple of hours.”
Marquette’s last home loss came on Dec. 29, 2011 against Vanderbilt, and the Golden Eagles haven’t lost a Big East home game since March 2, 2011. Marquette has won 15 of the 24 games by double digits, but there certainly have been close calls.
Connecticut would have ended the streak Jan. 1, but point guard Junior Cadougan hit an improbable 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation.  Just four days later, Georgetown’s Greg Whittington had three free throws to tie the game in the final seconds but missed the third. 
Though the current streak is impressive, it pales in comparison to the longest in school history. From 1967-73, Marquette won 81 straight home games, tied for the fifth-longest run in NCAA history. The team trying to end Marquette’s 24-game run is the same school that halted the 81-game streak in 1973. Notre Dame came into Milwaukee Arena on Jan. 13, 1973 and beat Marquette, 71-69. 
South Dakota State is done with its home schedule, which means Marquette must win Saturday to have a chance at claiming the longest home winning streak in the nation next season. More important, the Golden Eagles must fend off Notre Dame in order to keep their Big East championship hopes alive.
“We need to get one more,” Williams said. “And then schedule some really bad teams in November.” 

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter.