MILWAUKEE — For Marquette University, there’s no place like home, and the BMO Harris Bradley Center is becoming a house of horrors for all who visit in opposing colors.
Feeding off the 19,093 in attendance — the second-largest home crowd in Marquette history and the second-largest to see a college basketball game in the state of Wisconsin — the Golden Eagles capped an undefeated home season at 16-0 and extended the nation’s second-longest home winning streak to 25 games.
With a 72-64 victory over No. 21 Notre Dame on Saturday, No. 22 Marquette became the first team to clinch a double-bye in the Big East tournament, assuring the Golden Eagles of a top-four finish after being picked to finish seventh in the preseason.
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Marquette (21-7, 12-4) hasn’t lost a home game since Dec. 29, 2011 and has run the table at home in Big East play for two straight seasons.
“I want to have an ego about it and bang my head and say, ‘Look at us’, but what I really should say humbly is thank you to all of the people that have contributed to that,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “There’s a lot of people that care, that show up for every game.”
“I like everyday people. The people that show up every game, when we are playing North Carolina Central, those are the people that care.”
From the opening tip, the Bradley Center was up for grabs. The energy in the building fueled Marquette to an 18-6 start. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey used three of the five timeouts he gets for the entire game in the first 12 minutes and used a fourth before halftime.
“We started out like gangbusters,” Williams said. “It was such an incredible atmosphere you can get lost in the euphoria of all that.”
With the Big East standings jumbled up at the top, Marquette separated itself from the pack with home wins over No. 12 Syracuse and Notre Dame this week. The double-bye sends the Golden Eagles into the Big East quarterfinals, making the path to a tournament championship one game shorter.
“It’s real important,” Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan said. “We have more time to rest our bodies, more time to prepare for who we are playing and a shorter way to the championship. That’s another big accomplishment that we’ve made in back-to-back years.”
Last year, the Golden Eagles didn’t use the double-bye to their advantage. Marquette was run out of the gym by Louisville in the quarterfinals, committing 26 turnovers in an 84-71 loss.
“We had the double-bye last year and then peed on ourselves when we showed up,” Williams said. “I hope that we can do better this year.”
Though the double-bye is important, Marquette has a realistic shot at winning at least a share of the Big East’s regular-season conference championship. Georgetown needs to win at home against Rutgers on Saturday night to stay one game ahead of Marquette and Louisville atop the standings.
Marquette wouldn’t be in this position without dominating its home schedule.
“For us to finish second last year, and I don’t know where I’m going to finish this year, there’s not thing that you can say,” Williams said. “Last year everybody would say it was (Darius Johnson-Odom) and Jae (Crowder). Well what are you going to say this year?
“It’s everybody. Alumni, students, longtime season ticket holders, people that care.”
As good as Marquette is at home, it has suffered a few setbacks away from Milwaukee. The path to the conference championship no longer goes through the Bradley Center, as the Golden Eagles close the regular season with games at Rutgers and St. John’s.
“We’re playing for something,” Cadougan said. “If we really want it, I know this is a big win and it’s Senior Day and all that, but that’s all over by midnight. We have to wake up tomorrow morning and prepare for Rutgers. That’s a tough place to play, and they can sneak up on us and do what they do.
“We are playing for something big, and if we really want it we have to do the things to win on the road.”