I very rarely pick Syracuse to lose. Call it homerism or what you will, but I can generally find a logical way that Syracuse can win any game. Saturday's loss to Georgetown was so brain-meltingly awful that when it came time to record this week's "Troy Nunes is an Absolute Podcast" last night, I couldn't bring myself to choose the Orange on the road against a Marquette team that is unbeaten on its home floor this season. Buzz Williams seems to always have a great plan for playing Syracuse, and even when his Golden Eagles are less talented, they always give Syracuse fits.
I stuck my crow in the oven early on when C.J. Fair was hitting mid-range jumpers from everywhere on the court and Michael Carter-Williams was flying through the lane. When Trevor Cooney and Baye Moussa Keita came in and made legitimate offensive contributions, few could blame such hubris. A game that looked like a loss on paper sure looked like an easy win midway through the first half, when the Orange held a double digit lead and had the offense clicking like last week's Providence game.
For better or worse, tonight's crow took a while to cook, and by the end of the game I found myself putting it back in the freezer.
After jumping ahead 27-16 with just over three minutes left in the first half, Marquette went on a tirade and cut the Syracuse lead to 29-27, before entering halftime down just 32-29.
The second half was a back and forth affair, but Marquette imposed its will on the inside, feeding the ball to Big East Sixth Man of the Year candidate Devante Gardner, a 290-pound monster who scores at will around the hoop and shoots like Ray Allen at the free throw line. While Marquette never quite put the Orange away, Gardner was a consistent presence throughout the half, and found his way to the line whenever the Eagles needed to cut down Syracuse's momentum. He finished the game with 26 points on a perfect 7-of-7 from the field and a near-perfect 12-of-13 from the line.
The game was not quite as close as the final score would indicate. A few patented 30-foot heaves from James Southerland and a late bucket by Carter-Williams kept things respectable, but with every Syracuse foul turning into automatic points (as the Marquette students happily pointed out) at the line, there wasn't much the Orange could do to turn things around down the stretch. Gardner added eight boards to his 26 points, while guard Junior Cadougan and forward Jamil Wilson each added 12 for Marquette.
Syracuse forward and exemplary human being C.J. Fair led the Orange with 20 points on 8-of-11 from the field and seven rebounds. James Southerland dropped 15 points although he was only 5-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-11 from three, which included one late possession where he kept tracking down long rebounds and comically shot four times from behind the arc. Michael Carter-Williams shot the ball decently (6-of-14) and scored 14 points, but only had five assists and four very costly turnovers.
Syracuse is off until Saturday when Louisville comes to town for a dreaded nooner in the Dome. These wins are starting to become very important, especially if we want any shot at a friendly, nearby seed in the NCAA tournament.
I need a vacation, you guys.