I had a lot of conflicting emotions going into Sunday night's game against Syracuse. For every positive thought a negative one went with it. "We beat these guys before, we can beat 'em again, right? These guys are a three-seed, isn't it time for us to bow out with the other double-digit seeds? We looked great Friday night, if we keep that up we'll wins this one for sure, right? 'Cuse hasn't forgotten about our matchup in the regular season, they'll be looking for revenge against us."
I guess what it sums up as is I felt just as confident about this game as I do about any game in the Big East, which is not confident at all. Sunday's contest turned out to be no different, as the golden eagles played an incredibly close game against 3-seed Syracuse in Cleveland. A little recap:
Syracuse started out hot with a 7-0 run. After MU scored 6 straight points, 'Cuse went on a 12-2 run and seemed to be firmly in control, up 19-9. Marquette seemed lost on offense, and was putting up tough shots that weren't falling. Syracuse was making just about everything on the other end. But thanks to the toughness Buzz has instilled in his guys, Marquette fought back and figured out how to attack the 2-3 zone of Syracuse. At one point DJO scored 8 straight points to put us back in the game at 21-21. After that, we played a brilliant end to the half that ended with Jimmy Butler getting intentionally fouled on a steal and drive to the hoop, sinking both free throws, making a 2-point jumper on the ensuing possession, and sinking a 2-point jumper as the game clock expired to go up 34-31. The shot reminded me a lot of the game-winners he hit last year at UConn and at St. John's. Yeah, we were up at the half, but I could still feel that stomach ulcer developing.
Start the second half. Syracuse goes on a 4-0 run, and with that a crushing blow was dealt to the orange. On a drive to the rack, Brandon Triche collided with Junior Cadougan and landed hard on his tailbone. It would ultimately be the end to his season, as he didn't return to the game.
Not that I was happy to see a player get knocked out because of injury, but I'll take every advantage I can get.
The game was neck-and-neck the rest of the way, with no team going up by more than 5 down the stretch. Every basket made seemed to be traded for a basket on the other end. Syracuse knocked down a high percentage of their jump shots, but MU was able to penetrate the seams of the zone and score inside buckets. This game was shaping up to be a photo finish.
Fast forward to 3 minutes left in the game. Rick Jackson gets a feed in the post and puts up a nice hook shot off the glass to put Syracuse up 59-56. I had a pretty uneasy feeling at this point. We've all seen it before. The close games down the stretch, the inevitable missed shot or turnover (or call by Jim Burr) that gives Marquette a L for the game. Something told me this game was shaping up to be more of same.
MU took the ball up the court knowing they needed a big score to stay in this game, and they got just that. Jae Crowder went from the left wing, down under the hoop, and out to the right wing and caught a pass from DJO after drawing a double-team. Crowder caught the pass and put up a 3-pointer in stride. Good. Tie ball game at 59.
2 possessions later with the game still tied at 59, Syracuse inbounded the ball to Scoop Jardine who caught the ball on the Syracuse side but stepped over the half court line. MU ball.
This game has already taken 6 months off of my life.
And now the most crucial possession of the game. With 55 seconds on the clock, the golden eagles had a chance to go up and control the rest of the game. At first, they didn't show much on offense and just seemed to run down the clock, but here's how it went down:
Marquette passes it around the horn. DJO has the ball, Butler sets a screen to free up Buycks. DJO dishes it to Buycks. Buycks has an open look but shakes it off. Buycks passes it to Jimmy Butler at the top of the key. Butler drives and draws the double-team, kicks it out to DJO. DJO for three and...
IT'S GOOOOOD!!!!!!!! MARQUETTE TAKES A 62-59 LEAD WITH 25 SECONDS TO GO!
Jardine heaved up a desperation three-pointer on the other end which clanged off the rim and into the hands of Junior Cadougan. Cadougan calmly drained both of his free throws, and after trading a 'Cuse basket for two free throws from Jae Crowder, it was all but over. 'Cuse made a free throw on the other end and rebounded the miss on the second free throw, but Dwight Buycks snatched it away from Rick Jackson. Ball Game.
Three goggles were being thrown up everywhere. Syracuse was stunned by what they just witnessed. Buzz Williams remained calm for about 30 seconds before he embraced his wife and kids and then high-fived everyone within arms length.
A couple points to note about the game
- No question the player of the game was Darius Johnson-Odom. 17 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals. Did I mention he hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 25 seconds left?
- Solid interior play from Otule and Gardner. They held Rick Jackson, who averages 13 ppg, to just 7 points
- I thought Buzz made great use of his time-outs in the second half. He used them to stop every run Syracuse had, and called his guys to the bench during crucial offensive series. Great work Buzz
- 4 more rebounds and 4 less turnovers for our guys. Those are your two deciding stats
- Love watching Cadougan play aggressive on offense. Gives me good hope for next season
- What made the MU victory even sweeter? The fact that Gus Johnson was doing the play-by-play
- I've watched DJO hit that go-ahead three-pointer at least a dozen times now. Still haven't gotten tired of it, and probably never will.
- WE'RE IN THE SWEET SIXTEEN!!!!
A final thought about tonight's win. What does this do for our overall season? Can we forget about everything bad that has happened and just focus on our last two wins? I'll say this: take all of the close losses we've had and weigh them against yesterday's W. Think of teams like Louisville and St. John's who had solid regular seasons but got knocked out in the first round. Which would you rather have, victories in the regular season over Duke, Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, and Louisville but get knocked out in the first round, or losses against those 4 teams and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen? The answer is clearly your own opinion, but in my opinion I'll take the latter everytime.
Marquette heads to Newark to take on North Carolina on Friday at 6:15 pm. Check back here later in the week for a preview of the game.
To relive DJO's three again and again and again, you can watch it here