Another day, another nationally ranked opponent. Such is life in the Big East. Today it was the #9/10 Syracuse Orange, the 6th ranked team to oppose your Marquette Golden Eagles in the past seven games. The Cuse came in on three-game skid, and things weren't much better for Marquette. MU had lost three of their last four, blowing second half leads to ranked opponents in all three losses. The only win in that stretch came against hapless DePaul. Thankfully that one still counts as a Big East win. There were those that said that given the disastrous results of the past few games, this one was a "must win" for Marquette's hopes of making a 6th straight NCAA tournament. I don't know if that's true, but it would sure do a lot for the mental well being of this particular commentator.
Marquette came out ready to play in this one. They executed like a well oiled machine in the first half. The plan to attack the Orange's 2-3 zone was operated with damn near surgical precision. One of the main benefactors of the game plan was Jae Crowder. He was an absolute weapon in the first half, and throughout the game, for that matter, against the zone. The plan was clearly to find him in the weak spots of the zone, especially along the baseline and let him operate. He did that with great success, and even sprinkled in a three for good measure. Add Jae's performance to the usual output from DJO, JFB and the rest of the non-acronymed MU players, and the home team was looking good. They led 42-31 at the half.
An 11 point lead is usually fantastic ... unless you're a Marquette fan that's been paying attention for the last two weeks. And judging by the mood in the Bradley Center, everyone knew exactly what can happen when this squad is up 11 points and looking unstoppable. Those fears appeared to be coming true right from the second half's opening whistle. Cuse came out, scored the first four points of the second half and brought all of the insecurities of the last two weeks into play. Throughout the half Syracuse whittled away at the lead, and with 8:18 left in the game they had tied the game at 56-56. At that point there were 19,032 people in the arena thinking one thing in unison: "Oh Christ, it's happening again." Luckily for the Marquette faithful, there was one man in the building that wasn't going to let that scenario play out again. His name is Jimmy F. Butler. Butler hit two huge three pointers, and created a turnover that prevented the Cuse from ever completely turning the game. Darius Johnson-Odom added another clutch three, and MU made its throws down the stretch. The result was Marquette's first ever win over Syracuse as a member of the Big East and a much needed resume building win. EVERYONE TO THE BAR!!!
Bar references are not just for comedic effect, that's where I've been since 4:30. So let's check the notables, dole out some awards and get back to the business of drinking beer.
Jimmy Butler Player of the Game: Jae Crowder was gargantuan today, that is beyond dispute. However, the player that stood up and said "NO, we are NOT blowing another one today" was Jimmy Butler. The two 3-pointers he hit gave MU life when they needed it most. He also forced a key turnover when it looked like Marquette was going to give the Orange one more chance to steal this game. Jimmy was not going to be denied today, and he rescued Marquette from another "kick in the pills" type of loss. He ended with 19 points on 6-10 shooting, and a team high 8 rebounds. The best compliment I can give is this performance was Lazar-esque.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: There will be those that will argue that this award should go to Chris Otule. He did have a nice game, including a huge blocked shot in the waning seconds of the game. But I have to give this one to Dwight Buycks. He didn't have a great day shooting the ball (2-4 from the field, 6 points), but he did a fantastic job of setting up open shots for his teammates. He ended the game with 8 assists, but had it not been for guys getting fouled or missing passes he could have easily had 12. There were at least 4 or 5 instances where Buycks found open guys that no one else even saw. Each time there was a collective "Holy Sh*t!" reaction from the crowd. And, just for good measure, Dwight chipped in 5 rebounds to lock up tonight's Undersung Award.
Up Next: The meat grinder portion of the Big East schedule churns on with a matchup against #7 Villanova in PA. Marquette has always played 'Nova tough, so this one should be interesting. A win against a top 10 program on the road would be a major boost, and put an NCAA berth well within reach. Be sure and check that one out Wednesday at 6:00 CST. Til then...