It's been a while since Alumni Arena saw a "Sea of Blue," so True Blue stepped up and launched one of the biggest marketing campaigns in recent memory in hopes of getting students out of their dorm rooms and into the arena.
A total of 1,668 students packed the arena, and their efforts helped lift the Bulls (16-9, 7-5 Mid-American Conference) over UW-Milwaukee (16-12, 11-5 Horizon League), 80-65.
Despite two quick turnovers on the Bulls' first couple of possessions, junior guard Zach Filzen righted the ship quickly and was unconscious from the field. He scored 23 of his career-high 30 points in the first half and had an answer for everything the Panthers did to try and stop him.
With two minutes remaining, Filzen passed up a wide open 3-pointer to let some more clock run. Witherspoon appreciated the smart play of his sharpshooter.
"It was a mature decision because a lot of times when you're shooting it like that, you're unaware of other things," Witherspoon said. "He's not just a guy that shoots it well. He moves well without the basketball and he's unselfish…He's a tough person to prepare for."
Filzen entered Saturday's game ranked fifth in the nation with 83 3-pointers on the season. He added six more against Milwaukee and played one of his most memorable games in the blue and white.
Filzen credits part of his success to the support that he received from the student section.
"[The student section] was incredible," Filzen said. "That's something that makes a world of difference; having that kind of support and that kind of energy in the building is definitely something we appreciated. We hope it happens again in our final home game…We're thankful for everyone who set this up tonight and hopefully they'll come out again."
The game was a difficult one for Witherspoon to coach after he lost his father, Moses Witherspoon, to a battle with cancer last Wednesday morning. According to Filzen, the team is dedicating the season to Reggie's dad, and Witherspoon was appreciative of his players' effort in the game.
"Most of the guys, if not all of them, had a chance to meet my dad," Witherspoon said. "The way they responded helped…The next thing that really helped us was the crowd tonight. When I came out tonight and saw all those students up there in blue, I was shocked – thrilled, but shocked. It just makes this building that much tougher for our opponents to play in. Those are things that really help. But it was difficult."
Freshman forward Javon McCrea had another terrific performance as he finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and six assists. The big man said that he works on his passing in practice but it comes naturally for the most part. Witherspoon continues to be impressed with his court vision.
"Here's the real deal about Javon," Witherspoon said. "He loves LeBron James. LeBron's going out and getting those numbers – rebounds and assists – that's it, that's his inspiration…It's not a surprise that he's passing like that, but we didn't know he could see the floor this well."
The Bulls hit the road for their next contest when they take on Kent State (17-9, 8-3 MAC) in Ohio on Thursday night. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.