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How Sweet It Is! Marquette 66, Syracuse 62

It has been eight years since Dwyane Wade, Travis Diener, Robert Jackson and Co. led YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles to the Final Four.  No team since then has been able to advance past the first weekend of the tournament.  In that interim fans and players alike have had to endure plenty of heartbreak.  There was Jean Felix and Novak's great look that went begging.  There was the shot that Brook Lopez pulled out from deep within his rectum to beat MU in overtime.  There was Dom James' injury and Lazar stepping on the line.  And most recently, it was Quincy Pondexter and the collapse in San Jose.  This Sunday night in Cleveland it was the Golden Eagles' turn to dispense a little heartbreak, and upend the dreams of the Syracuse Orange en route to their first Sweet Sixteen since that magical run of 2003.

The way the game started out, it certainly appeared that Syracuse was hell bent on avenging their 76-70 loss to Marquette at the Bradley Center back in January.  They came out shooting the ball well, especially Brandon Triche who scored 8 of the Orange's first 10 points.  On the other hand MU was not hot at the outset of the game.  They struggled initially against the Cuse 2-3 zone, turned the ball over and missed a number of tough shots.  By the 10 minute mark of the first half Syracuse had extended their advantage to 10 points and Marquette looked all kinds of out of sorts. 

But despite being unable to get on track offensively, MU had begun to tighten things up on defense.  While they were down ten, they had only allowed Syracuse to score 19 points - 10 of those coming in the first five minutes of the game.  As the half progressed, the defense continued to step up and eventually the shots started to fall.  As they fell, the Orange lead began to shrink.  And when Darius Johnson-Odom dialed up a trey at the 5:22 mark, the game was tied at 21-21.  Marquette's intensity continued to grow and they closed the half on an 11-2 run, with a 34-31 lead. 

The game was nip-tuck from there on out.  Every time Syracuse mounted a run, Marquette seemed to have an answer.  At about the 13 minute mark, Cuse put together a 6-0 run (yes, in this game 6-0 counts as a "run") to push their lead out to 46-41 and a prompt a timeout from Buzz Williams.  Out of that timeout, MU got an inside bucket from Jae Crowder to stem the Orange momentum and set up a classic finish.

The finish, the notes, the awards after the jump

After going back and forth for about 11 minutes of game time, Cuse went ahead by three on a lay-up by Rick Jackson with just under 3 minutes to play.  Marquette answered with a HUGE 3-pointer from the right wing by Jae Crowder to tie the game at 59.  Marquette then had a chance to take the lead after a great defensive play by Jimmy Butler, but Junior Cadougan's runner wouldn't go and Syracuse had the ball with under a minute to play.  After a timeout Cuse attempted to inbound the ball to Dion Waiters, but the freshman made a freshman mistake and stepped on the half court line for an backcourt violation.  Marquette had been given another chance and they didn't let it slip away.  Jimmy Butler drove against the zone, drew a double team, jumped in the air, spun and found DJO for a wide open three.  Good, with only 27 seconds to play!!! Scoop Jardine rushed the ball back up for the Orange and launched a triple from the top of the key.  It was off, Cadougan corralled the rebound and sank two free throws.  It was all over from there.  Marquette knocks Syracuse out of the Big East Invitational, and advances!

Items of note:

  • Through all the ups and downs of the season we've wondered when those lessons learned from the tough times were going to show up. They showed up tonight - just like Friday except amplified. These kids showed a ton of poise and confidence in this one. Syracuse had a lot of fans in Cleveland, they came out hot, threw some good defense at 'em and the guys never blinked. They looked like a team that had been through the fire before. It was awesome to see.
  • The defense, which had often been suspect this year, has been outstanding thus far in the NCAA Tournament. The late possession, that resulted in the steal by JFB, might have been the best defensive possession that I've seen all year. They rotated well. They denied Rick Jackson the ball and came up with a huge steal at the biggest moment of the season. Cuse did shoot 55% from the floor, but that was largely negated by their 18 turnovers.
  • Brandon Triche went down hard on his tailbone early in the second half, and never returned for the Orange. I have to think that his absence played a role Marquette get the W tonight. Obviously we never want to see that happen, and we hope he's alright.
  • As it was back in January, free throw shooting was HUGE in this game. Cuse went just 5-7, while Marquette shot 19-23 from the stripe (82.6%!). That includes 4-4 out of Cadougan and Crowder in the last 15 seconds to ensure there were no Orange miracles.
  • Speaking of Jae Crowder, he had probably his best game since the last time Marquette and Syracuse played back on January 29th. In 31 minutes Jae scored 16 points and grabbed 7 boards. He shot 4-8 from the field and hit one gigantic three. Perhaps most impressive was the 7-8 from the free throw line. He was shooting just 59% coming into the game, but was dialed in tonight. Jae also played a big part in limiting Rick Jackson to just 7 points in 40 minutes.
  • Another huge component in Rick Jackson's poor offensive evening was the defense played by Chris Otule. Chris banged all night with R-Jax down low and held his own. Had he not gotten jobbed on a couple of foul calls he may have gotten a little more run, but he manned up while he was in there. He also did a good job creating space in the interior of the Syracuse zone. He didn't get a ton of touches (just 6 points on the night) but he helped seal guys away from the driving lanes that were exploited by the MU wings.
  • Last but certainly not least - I am running out of ways to praise Jimmy Butler. This guy is the definition of the "do-everything" player. He didn't have his best offensive game tonight - 10 points on 4-11 shooting - but it seemed like every basket came at a crucial moment. He also chipped in 5 rebounds, 4 on the offensive end, 3 steals and 3 assists - the last of which came on DJO's dagger 3-pointer.

Jimmy Butler Player of the Game:  Darius Johnson-Odom.  He carried the MU offense with 17 points, shot 7-15 from the floor and 3-7 from 3-point land.  Oh, and he made the biggest shot of the season in the process.  At one point in the first half, as Marquette was digging out of its early hole, DJO scored 8 straight points.  Remember that tentative, hesitant DJO we saw earlier in the year?  The DJO we saw tonight would have laughed in that guy's face and drilled a three on him.  He was large tonight; very, very large.

Joe Fulce Undersung Eagle of the Game: Tonight I'm giving the Undersung Award to Buzz Williams.  Buzz had this team ready to go tonight.  They attacked the zone, which had given them fits in recent games, with great success.  They faced down everything the Orange threw at them and gave it right back.  They played like the team that wanted it more.  He and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the way this team has performed in this tournament.

There seems to be some confusion amongst our readers out there.  People seem to have gotten the idea that we here at AE are "anti-Buzz".  That is not true at all.  We merely sometimes get caught up in the emotions of the season, and occasionally express our frustrations in a manner that may be misconstrued.  Buzz isn't perfect, he makes mistakes and he'd be the first one to admit as much.  And sometimes we might get a little overly vociferous in our analysis of those mistakes.  But I want to state for the record, on behalf of all of us here at Anonymous Eagle (even Rubie Q):  We like Buzz and we hope he stays here, continues to have success, grow as a coach and as a person, as a member of the Marquette family.

Up Next:  THE SWEET SIXTEEN!!!  The No. 2 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels await Marquette in the round of 16.  The last time these two squads ran into each other in the tourney was in the 1977 NCAA championship game.  You may recall that Al McGuire and the Warriors won that one and cut down the nets in Atlanta.  The rematch comes your way Friday March 25, at 6:15 p.m. CDT.  Until then: enjoy this one, friends.  Tournament wins are a special, special thing.