So close, yet so far.
Marquette Golden Eagles found themselves on the business end of a double digit deficit for most of the second half and were unsuccessful in their late rally attempt, falling to Penn State Nittany Lions in the NIT quarterfinals, 85-80. The season is over, with a final record of 21-14.
Ultimately, it’s the same story that can be told for any of Marquette’s losses this season: They didn’t have the ability to get stops at the right times or in the right quantities to hold the PSU offense down long enough for the MU offense to succeed. The offense shot roughly its season average overall, from three-point land, and in terms of effective field goal percentage, too. The offense was enough to carry the day on Tuesday night at the McGuire Center. As has been the case so many times over the past two seasons, the defense was not.
MU’s defense was faced with a specific task in order to win, and that’s stopping Tony Carr. The sophomore from Philly is an undeniable star, essentially willing the Nittany Lions to three wins over Ohio State this season by himself. Marquette couldn’t stop him from getting his points, as he finished with 25 and 11 of those came from the free throw line. As much as the inability to stop the guy who most needed stopping was MU’s fatal flaw, it probably wasn’t the biggest problem on the night. Look no further than Lamar Stevens, who had what could easily be called a career night. 30 points on 14-of-22 shooting for the Pennsylvania sophomore, all on the interior, although just two rebounds for the 6’8” Stevens. Still, Marquette would have likely won the game if they could have stopped one of the two gentlemen in gray and blue.
Things slid out of control in the game in the second quarter. They showed signs of shakiness in the first, when two free throws from John Harrar put PSU up six before five minutes were played, but MU would take a lead on a Jamal Cain tip-in before the margin was three favoring the visitors at the end of 10 minutes. Marquette would never lead again, though, and a tip-in by Julian Moore that put the Nittany Lions up nine with 3:11 left before the break was where things probably went south for good.
The margin was seven at the break, thanks to a bucket by Carr on PSU’s final possession, and it hit double digits for the first time just 13 seconds into the second half on a Shep Garner triple. MU would whittle it down to single digits, drawing as close as eight when Andrew Rowsey hit two of three free throws, but the margin was back to 12, 63-51, heading to the final 10 minutes.
I suppose we have to give a thumbs up to Marquette’s refusal to go quietly into the good night. Stevens punched the lead back up to 14 with 7:14 to go, and MU went on a 12-2 run over the next four minutes, closing to 69-65 on a pair of freebies from Markus Howard with 3:19 left. PSU answered with a triple from Josh Reaves, his only bucket of the game, and three free throws from Rowsey made it a four point game again with 2:39 to go.
If you had optimism at that point, I wouldn’t have blamed you. It was a 15-5 extended run for the Golden Eagles, and things seemed to be tilting their way. But. Stevens again, on a feed from Reaves, and after a missed three from Sam Hauser, Stevens pushed the lead back to eight with 1:38 to go.
That was probably the end there, especially after free throws from Carr pushed it back to double digits. Yes, Rowsey hit a three and a layup in the final 20 seconds to make it a three point game, and yes, if Carr misses his free throws with five seconds left, who knows what happens.
But he didn’t. And the season ended.
We must issue congratulations of the highest order to Andrew Rowsey, who finishes his 2017-18 campaign with 716 points, which is a brand new Marquette single season record. He surpassed the sublime 710 points posted by Dwyane Wade during the 2002-03 season. Rowsey also knocked down six three-pointers against PSU, giving him 125 on the season, which is also a Marquette single season record. Steve Novak dropped in 121 during MU’s first season in the Big East for the previous record high. Rowsey also closes his two-year Marquette career as one of just seven MU players to record 1,000 points in just two seasons, joining an illustrious group of Dwyane Wade, George Thompson, Jae Crowder, Darius-Johnson-Odom, Dean Meminger, and Markus Howard. Rowsey finishes his MU career with 1,087 points, ranking him #39 all time.
If we have to say farewell to the Virginia native, that means we also have to say THANK YOU to Andrew Rowsey. That’s a guy who took a major gamble on himself, making the jump from UNC-Asheville and the Big South to Marquette and the Big East. He believed he could play at a high major level, and he was absolutely 100% correct. Rowsey provided fireworks at a rate literally unseen before in Marquette history, and he did it with a flash and style and attitude on the court that always made you wonder what he was going to do to astound us next. He wasn’t just a scorer, either. You could understand how a guy with Rowsey’s range might get a little shoot-happy, but he distributed the ball at an amazing rate this season (#101 in the country right now) after Wojo gave him the keys to the offense. Rowsey goes out with 168 assists in his senior season, the fourth best mark by a senior in Marquette history, trailing only Lloyd Walton, Sam Worthen, and of course, the untouchable Tony Miller.
THANK YOU to Andrew Rowsey for every inch of fight and every drop of sweat and every drop of blood (we remember the stitches this season) that he has put into the program over the past three seasons.
And with that..... the offseason is evil, and it must be destroyed.