Marquette finally held onto a win against a ranked Big East opponent with a 76-70 victory over No. 9/10 Syracuse.
Senior Jimmy Butler and junior Darius Johnson-Odom hit three clutch three-pointers in the final minutes to deliver the Golden Eagles’ first win over the Orange since joining the Big East conference in 2005.
Syracuse continued its recent slide, dropping its fourth decision since starting the season 18-0.
Against a much taller and bigger team in the post, junior Jae Crowder stole the show, scoring 13 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. Crowder was matched against the conference’s top rebounder, Rick Jackson, for a large portion of the game, but the combined effort of Marquette’s defense held him to just four boards.
“Jackson was the biggest big man we’ve faced,” Crowder said, “and I think he didn’t show it as much because of the different double teams we threw at him.”
The Golden Eagles out-rebounded the Orange 26-24 and fought harder for second chance baskets, two areas they had struggled with in past matchups.
As it had against previous conference foes, the Marquette offense hit the ground running in the first half, scoring 42 points and making just over half the field goals it attempted.
“The first half we weren’t defending, guys were getting past us too much,” coach Jim Boeheim said.
The way it finished the game, however, proved to be the difference.
The Golden Eagles knew going into the second half with an 11-point lead that they had to focus on staying ahead and that they needed a win against a top-ranked opponent to remain in the hunt for the NCAA tournament.
With the pressure on, they limited their turnovers and kept the game at a manageable pace.
“I feel like we did a better job controlling the game,” Johnson-Odom said. “When you play a team like Syracuse, they’re going to make runs, and it comes down to how you control those runs.”
Marquette also capitalized on its crucial free throw opportunities when the Orange resorted to fouls.
“Anytime you make 24 free throws, you’re going to have a good chance to win,” coach Buzz Williams said.
Syracuse came back strong in the second half, starting with an 8-1 run. With 8:08 left in the game, junior Scoop Jardine scored on a reverse layup to tie the game at 56.
Each time Syracuse came close or tied, however, the Golden Eagles responded with urgency.
Syracuse junior Kris Joseph hit a jumper to tie the score at 66 with 2:10 remaining, but Butler and Johnson-Odom’s consecutive threes provided the answer for Marquette.
His team up by five, sophomore Chris Otule assured there would be no Orange comeback by rejecting a layup attempt from Jardine with 35 seconds left.
Williams saw the win as an example of the opportunities that come with playing in a rigorous conference like the Big East.
“This league gives you opportunity after opportunity to prove yourself,” Williams said. “You look at what is going on in our league over the last two weeks, when was the last time Syracuse lost four games in a row? You look it up, and you will see how hard it is.”