An able-bodied man once told me, "Kid, you're never going to amount to anything. You're uselessness in this world we live in is but a speck of dust on my glorious trophy case. Look at it. Look at the trophy case, full of trophies, trophies you'll never get to touch because they're locked in this case. You'll never find the key, either, because it's locked away in my other trophy case, which is locked with another key that is locked away in yet another trophy case."
Just to let you know, I got into two trophy cases before I passed out from a massive amount of blood loss from smashing the cases open with my hands. I never got to the final, elusive trophy case.
When Creighton started the year, a lot of people low balled the Bluejay hoop squad rendering them incomplete, predicting a near last place finish. As I sit here, Creighton is still above .500 in conference with just three games remaining, but seemingly could not get the elusive victory to put them over the top and into the national conversation as a bubble team for the NCAA tournament.
Marquette started the year in a similar position, and after a relatively swell showing during their non-conference slate, had surprised the BIG EAST media. The expectations began to swell like a balloon, a balloon that popped immediately going into their conference schedule as they lost five of their first seven games. The expectations of Marquette making a run soon shifted to the performance and play of one Henry Ellenson.
Watching Creighton during their pregame warmups it became clear early on that they were loose and laid-back; an eight day layoff can do that to you - it can drive you mad with cabin fever, waiting to play your next game. Marquette came to center court stoic and immovable; they appeared focused and confident. The style of how these two teams perceived this game was evident: Creighton was coming out with a bit of lackadaisical confidence, Marquette entered with the goal of avenging the loss from just 11 days prior and silencing a crowd of 17,400+.
The first 5 minutes consisted of missed jumpers and paint points by Creighton, the exact opposite for Marquette. The Golden Eagles took a sizable lead of 15-7 before a media timeout halted play. With the additions of Khyri Thomas and Cole Huff, the Jays took off and closed the gap to tie it at 17-all. The back and forth continued on from there until the 3:39 mark where Jajuan Johnson, Haanif Cheatham, and Duane Wilson stepped up and finished the half on a 9-0 run. The score: 39-29.
At halftime I made sure to think about those damn trophy cases and how they've effected my life to this day. I thought about when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar swooped into the home, dressed as a firefighter, and saved my life. I thought about how our friendship endured since that day and how I'd be able to call on him if I ever needed help with smashing open other glass cases to make my dream come true. Most importantly, though, I recognized the all-time NBA points leader as a man of intellect and caring - someone I would want to emulate myself after.
The second half started a lot like the first half ended: with a huge run by Marquette. Building on their 10 point lead, the Golden Eagles pushed it to 15 in the first three minutes. Creighton couldn't hit a shot to save their lives, and TOBY! Hegner's hip pointer injury wasn't helping his shot. The half churned on, with the Bluejays eventually closing the lead to just ten. Ellenson was dynamite during this stretch, nailing 3's and acting as a brilliant decoy for Cheatham.
Eventually, the tide began to turn. With 13 minutes left in the second half, Creighton managed to put on a 12-0 run, closing the gap to 53-52. Within that timeframe, Creighton hit their first three pointer of the game - by Isaiah Zierden - and subsequently hit their second three pointer to tie the game again at 56-56. Just moments after, Duane Wilson battled back and nailed a layup, pushing Marquette ahead 58-56 with about 4 minutes remaining. Neither team would score until the 1:13 mark where Duane Wilson reprised his role by hitting yet another layup, which was immediately answered by Maurice Watson Jr. A 30 second timeout was implemented, Creighton continued with their 3/4 press, which inevitably led to a Henry Ellenson jumper from the free throw stripe with 41 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Cole Huff managed to miss two straight three point tries in an attempt to get Marquette's lead back down to three. Instead, Jajuan Johnson got the rebound off of Huff's second miss and was fouled immediately with just 9 seconds left on the clock. Johnson made both to push the lead to 6 only for Mo Watson to rise and fire a three from the top of the key and tickle the twines with the game saving shot. But alas, it was not to be, as Henry Ellenson was fouled before Marquette could inbound the ball. With 2 seconds remaining, Ellenson sunk both foul shots and the game was over.
That final trophy case I never gained access to so I could touch the non-paralyzed human's trophies still weighs heavily on my mind. It has become my white whale, just as Creighton's NCAA bid has become theirs in this topsy turny year of college basketball.