A year ago, Marquette defeated Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16, and a post-game celebration of tears, hugs and elation filled the Quicken Loans Arena.
Once again, they’ve reached that sweet spot. But this year, the Golden Eagles understand there are bigger goals to accomplish.
The Golden Eagles will square off against the No. 7 seed Florida Gators in the semifinals of the West regional tonight for a chance to move within one win of the program’s fourth Final Four berth.
Saturday’s celebration was much different from last year’s, when the team was a No. 11 seed underdog. The Golden Eagles, now a No. 3 seed, were reserved in their post-game celebration.
“I think the response was different,” said coach Buzz Williams. “Is it because of the expectations? Maybe internally. I also think it’s because of the experience from last year, that they understand this is where we’re at. I think that’s just human nature.”
Marquette outran the taller, defensive-minded BYU Cougars last Thursday to advance to the round of 32.
Two days later, the Golden Eagles battled with the sixth-seeded Murray State Racers, ending the game on a 21-7 run to advance to their second straight Sweet 16.
Standing in the way of a potential Elite 8 berth will be Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators. Similar to Marquette, the Gators use a guard-oriented offense with versatile interior players to lead their high scoring attack.
“I think coach Donovan has been above the curve relative to college basketball in doing a lot of the same things that are done in the NBA,” Williams said. “If you can slow them down in transition, your ball screen coverage has to be superb.”
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Two players who will dictate how the Golden Eagles fare on those screens are forwards Jae Crowder and Jamil Wilson. Marquette’s starting front court has combined for 49 points and 41 rebounds through two games, while BYU’s and Murray State’s front courts combined for 47 points and 36 rebounds.
Senior Jae Crowder, who said the most important thing he brings to the team is defense, also said the Golden Eagles know how to switch styles of play on the go.
“We can adjust to any kind of tempo there is to play,” Crowder said. “We played slow and in the half-court offense more at BYU in the first round. I think we showed we can play a lot of different tempos.”
Marquette will deal with a Florida squad that thrives on the 3-point shot. The Gators’ 25.5 3-point attempts per game is third most in the country. And while the Gators take plenty of shots from outside, they also make over 38 percent of those attempts.
The trio of guards Bradley Beal, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton give the Gators one of the most talented backcourts in the country. Together, they have attempted 614 3-pointers this year, more than 210 teams have as a whole.
With such a high volume of 3-point attempts, Williams said rebounding will be a key factor for the Marquette defense.
“There are very few teams that have that offensive rebounding percentage that, at the same time, have those offensive efficiency-type numbers,” Williams said. “It’s as potent an offensive team as I’ve studied this year.”
Such a high-powered offense full of sharpshooters will be a difficult task for the Golden Eagles, but senior shooting guard Darius Johnson-Odom said Marquette’s constant energy will help them, just as it did in the team’s first two games.
“When we don’t play with energy, we’re not good at all,” Johnson-Odom said. “When we’re able to hook up with a high intensity of energy, and when we’re just playing hard, then the results are pretty positive.”