MILWAUKEE (AP)—Syracuse showed some improvement in its play over the previous three games, just not enough improvement.
Jae Crowder scored 13 of his 25 points in the second half and Marquette handed No. 9 Syracuse its fourth straight loss, 76-70 on Saturday.
It was all too familiar to Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim.
“The first half we weren’t defending, guys were getting passed us too much,” he said.
Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom each had 12 points in the first half to pace Marquette’s attack that went over and through Syracuse’s zone defense. The Orange contested Marquette’s drives through the paint, but still couldn’t stop the scoring. The Golden Eagles made 13 of 15 free throws to Syracuse’s 1 of 2.
Marquette (14-8, 5-4 Big East) led by 11 points three times in the first half, the last on Jimmy Butler’s close-in jumper that gave Marquette a 42-31 lead heading into the second half.
The Orange’s defensive focus was much better in the second half, and it looked as if Marquette was headed for another second-half collapse.
Scopp Jardine, who finished with 13 points and 13 assists, scored on a reverse layup that came off a turnover to cap a 25-14 run, erased Marquette’s 11-point halftime lead and tied the game at 56 with 8:18 to go.
“Our offense was the best its been in quite a while,” Boeheim said after the team shot 57.1 percent (28 of 49) and 46.2 percent (6 of 13) from behind the arc. “In the second half, we put both together. Our offense was still good and our defense got a lot better.”
A porous defense figured prominently in the Orange’s previous three losses. Then-No. 5 Pittsburgh shredded the Syracuse zone for a 74-66 victory Jan. 17. Villanova, ranked eighth at the time, hit 11 3-pointers in an 83-72 victory last Saturday at the Carrier Dome. On Tuesday, Seton Hall made 10 of 17 3s in a 90-68 rout, the worst home loss since an 85-61 defeat on Feb. 7, 1998.
Syracuse’s previous best in the three losses was shooting 43.5 percent from the field against Louisville and 40 percent from 3-point range against Pittsburgh.
Syracuse started the second half with an 8-1 run while holding Marquette scoreless for almost four minutes to pull to 43-39 with 16:38 left. The Orange cut off Marquette’s driving lanes which had been wide open in the first half and forced the Golden Eagles to shoot from the outside. Marquette missed three shots in the span and turned the ball over once as Syracuse finally made it a close.
Down the stretch, C.J. Fair’s layup tied the game at 64, but Crowder’s layup put Marquette ahead by two. Kris Joseph’s jumper tied it for the last time for Syracuse (18-4, 5-4) which never led in the game. Butler, who scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, hit a 3-pointer with 1:51 to go and then Johnson-Odom made another 3 as Marquette withstood the charge.
“The last three 3s they made were tough shots, very tough shots,” Boeheim said. “The game came down to Butler making a forced three on the right-hand side. It was the toughest shot of the game. Then he made a tough shot with the clock going out (with 4:02 left). That is just the way it is. He made two great plays and that was the ballgame.”
Marquette head coach Buzz Williams wasn’t in a gloating mood.
“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?” he asked. “You look it up, and you will see how hard it is.”
Joseph led the Orange with 18 points and Fair added 10. Syracuse lost four in a row for the first time since Jan. 16-29, 2006.
Butler and Dwight Buycks each made one of two free throws and Johnson-Odom made two in the final minute to seal the victory.
The Orange had won five straight over Marquette since it joined the conference in 2005 and held a 7-2 all-time record coming into the game. The Golden Eagles had beaten every Big East opponent except for Syracuse, but Crowder and Butler changed that.
Johnson-Odom had 17 points for Marquette which had opened Big East play with victories over West Virginia and Rutgers. Then, the Golden Eagles lost four of six to nationally ranked teams, including consecutive defeats to then 16th-ranked Notre Dame last Saturday and fifth-ranked Connecticut on Tuesday. The Golden Eagles, 2-7 overall against ranked teams this season, had wasted second-half leads in each of their last three losses because of defensive breakdowns.