SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Still undefeated and enjoying the view from their throne, Syracuse returned home Saturday after two games out on the road; and the hits just kept on coming.
With students still out on break the Dome was still rocking, as this proud fan base is reveling in the success their team is experiencing, salivating at the thought of returning to the Final Four.
After a dominating first half, Syracuse saw its lead slip away as Marquette, now on a two-game losing streak, played the final 20 minutes with a sense of desperation not seen in the first half.
With the lead as close as four, Dion Waters may have prevented this game from going down to the wire after a three-point block on Darius Johnson Odom with just over four minutes to play. "We didn’t want [Darius Johnson Odom] shooting the three," said Jim Boeheim after the game.
If converted, the Golden Eagles would have cut the lead to one. Instead the Orange got a lay-up, and it gave them enough cushion to pull out a victory.
As a credentialed media guy, it was cool for me on a personal level to travel up to Syracuse and check out a game from press row. Ten years ago my friends and I were in the 300 level for the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Obviously, today’s vantage point was a bit better.
Here are five takeaways from a very exciting game…
- Fab Melo may still be a bit of a liability – And that’s not to overlook his improvement; he's not the butt of anymore jokes. But in just the first three possessions of the game and first two possessions of the second half, Melo picked up three fouls. Old habits die hard, as illustrated by SI’s Luke Winn as part of his latest power rankings. Baye Moussa Keita is a nice back-up, but the Orange struggled to score in the paint in the second half, and they were outscored down low 32-28 against a very undersized team. You’d like to get a consistent 25 minutes a game from your starting 7-foot center.
- The Golden Eagles need Davante Gardner – In only his sixth start of the season, Marquette’s lesser known big guy went right to work against the aforementioned Fab Melo. Early on, Buzz Peterson sought to put four guys out on the perimeter and feed Gardner, which can be an effective strategy against a 2-3 zone. The problem was that two fouls in the first eight minutes of the game probably prevented Gardner from playing as aggressive as he’d like to. Officially without Chris Otule for the rest of the season, this team needs a guy like Gardner to rebound and let the more versatile Jae Crowder roam around the court if they want to bounce back from a sluggish start to conference play.
- Darius Johnson-Odom wanted to be a hero – Much of the talk coming into today’s game was how furious the Golden Eagles were after losing the way they did to Georgetown, and how this could be the worst time for Syracuse to play them. Who knows what these kids were feeling out on the court, but it was quite apparent that, at the very least, Darius Johnson-Odom wanted to be Superman from the opening tip. He accounted for 40 percent of his team’s first half FG attempts, shooting 2-8 in the first half, including 0-4 from beyond the arc. Whether it was barking at Scoop Jardine or missing a breakaway dunk that should have been a simple lay-up, DJO was a bit out of control today.
- Syracuse’s 23-1 run was just fantastic – Syracuse flexed both their offensive and defensive muscles during a 10 minute stretch to close out the first half. For the first eight minutes of the run there really was no running at all, just sound defense, as the Orange scored 12 points over 15 possessions. But that quickly turned into a sprint as they poured in nine points on six possessions during the next 150 seconds. This, all while Marquette was able to counter with one measly point.
- Jim Boeheim may be tightening up his rotation - Coming in to today’s game, 10 Orange players averaged 10 or more minutes of run a game. It's unlikely that nugget of info will hold true all season, as we're already seeing Coach Boeheim tighten up his rotation for Big East play. Against Marquette we saw Rakeem Christmas for only two minutes in the second half, zero minutes from James Southerland in the second half, and no court time at all for freshman Michael Carter-Williams. Syracuse is deep, very deep, but we’ll likely see a more traditional 7-8 man rotation for the rest of the season.
Oh, and also...
- Junior Cadougan really needs to have a son – Because then he could name him Junior, making his son’s name Junior Cadougan Junior. In turn, Junior's name would then become Junior Cadougan Senior.