Alright, alright, alright: we may have gone a little overboard with the parade of horribles we predicted before YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles tangled with the Syracuse Orange last night at the Bradley Center. We were still stinging from the gruesome showing at Villanova, for sure, but that's no excuse for predicting that C.J. Fair would score 40 (in the first half) or Michael Carter-Williams would put up a quintuple-double (points, rebounds, assists, steals, times Jay Bilas gushed about his length) or James Southerland would hit a few threes from the Al McGuire Court logo (actually, that was a pretty good call).
For a stretch in the first half, though, it sure looked like we knew what we were talking about: after the teams traded buckets for the first nine minutes of the game, Cuse put together a 13-0 run over the next seven minutes to claim a 25-14 lead. Perhaps predictably, after attacking Cuse's 2-3 zone with vim and vigor in the game's opening minutes, MU reverted to swinging the ball around the perimeter and chucking the rock in the vague direction of the basket; Junior Cadougan missed two three-point attempts, as did Jamil Wilson, Vander Blue and Todd Mayo missed one each, and all of a sudden this thing was threatening to get out of hand in a hurry.
Eight straight points from Davante Gardner kept things from getting real stupid, but Marquette still found itself down 8 with under two minutes to play in the first half. That's when Coach Buzz Williams called Jake Thomas' name.
Now: I won't pretend that Thomas' entry into the game was met with anything other than a collective "the hell?" from the congregation. A six-foot-nothing walk-on, who hadn't scored in two months and had barely gotten off the bench in Big East play, hardly screams: "HERE IS YOUR SALVATION." And yet: there Thomas was, streaking (relative term) down the sideline on the break after Brandon Triche missed a jumper, launching a quick three while absorbing contact from Jerami Grant and sweet baby Jesus in heaven THAT'S A FOUR-POINT PLAY FOR JAKE THOMAS.
A Cadougan layup and a Wilson dunk drew Marquette within three at the break, and then it was time for The Big Smoove Hour Featuring Davante Gardner and the Todd Mayo Good-Time Band. Every time the game was threatening to slip away, every time the Orange opened up a five or seven point lead, Ox was there to stem the tide, drawing fouls aplenty and attacking the offensive glass with abandon. For his part, Mayo chipped in two massive three-pointers, the first of which drew MU within 3 with 7:30 to play, and the second which gave the Golden Eagles a four-point advantage with four to play.
When the smoke cleared, Big Smoove had notched a career-high 26, Mayo had nine in just 16 minutes, YOUR Golden Eagles had another attractive pelt - er, rind - to add to the mantle, and Jim Boeheim had to yell at the assembled media to distract from his team's sub-.500 record in February and his curious decision to start sending Marquette to the line when Syracuse was trailing by 5 with more than a minute to play.
A few other notes on the action:
- I'm OK with Coach Buzz subbing in Thomas in a desperate attempt to solve the Cuse zone; that was an Independence Day, "doesn't ANYBODY have any missiles left?" moment, and anything goes at a time like that. But going back to Thomas in the second half instead of getting Mayo on the court? I don't get that. Thomas did his job and then some in that brief run in the first half, and putting him back in was just begging for a violent and terrifying regression to the mean. Sure enough, that's what happened: Jim Boeheim singled Thomas out like he was a third-string defensive back playing against an All-Pro quarterback, and Cuse exploited Thomas' slow rotations and lack of length time after time after time, and Thomas badly bricked his only three-point attempt in the second half.
- It's nickname time for Jamil "ZONEBUSTER!" Wilson, who proved to be an ideal candidate to slice and dice the 2-3 (when he wasn't launching contested 27-footers, of course), finishing with a stunning seven assists to go along with 12 points and five rebounds. Wilson turned the tide in Marquette's favor with six minutes to go when he zipped down the baseline, drew in the Cuse forwards, and then whipped a bullet to Gardner, who knifed down the lane for a layup.
- I have two thoughts about Michael Carter-Williams: (1) after seeing him rip off 5 points and a steal in the first two minutes of the game, I can see why NBA GM-types fawn over his potential; (2) after seeing how he performed in the last 3 minutes of the game, he's absolutely going to cost someone - probably David Kahn - his job.
- When Baye Keita hit that absurd, twirling 8-foot hook shot with 10 minutes to go in the second half, did anybody else have that sinking "this is one of those ‘no ****ing way' games where we're not winning no matter what" feeling?
- Line of the night on the telecast goes to Jay Bilas, talking about trying to box out Gardner: "How do you block out a guy who blocks out the sun?"
- "Vander Blue was quiet" count: 3. "Vander Blue looked a little sulky in the second half, which is sure to spawn 38 threads on Marquette message boards about how he still has a lot of growing up to do" count: 1.
- We've spent the last couple days trying to figure out if there's any rhyme or reason to why Junior Cadougan plays so well at home and so poorly on the road. I don't know what to say about yesterday's 12-point, 3-rebound, 3-assist, 4-steal effort against stellar competition, other than: maybe we should call him Coors Field Cadougan.
Player of the Year of the Game: I would've taken 15 and 5 from Davante Gardner after his dismal performance at Villanova, but Big Nickname had bigger things in mind last night: 7-7 from the field (including the tastiest 18-foot set shot you've ever seen in your life), 12-13 from the stripe, eight rebounds, and a couple assists.
Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: If we can bottle what Jamil Wilson did last night, convert it to liquid form, and give it to him to drink before every game for the rest of his Marquette career, I'd be OK with it.
Davante "Big Smoove" Gardner Smoove Play of the Game: At no point in this season did I think we'd be handing out a Smoove Award to Jake Thomas. But a four-point play that lights a fire under your team's ass is a four-point play that lights a fire under your team's ass. Good on ya, Jake.
Up Next: A few days to recover, then what might be the final visit to the BMO Harris Bradley Center by our friends from Our Lady of Perpetual Smugness