MILWAUKEE -- The race for the final Big East championship -- at least in the current, familiar and traditional configuration -- is coming down to the wire and so are the games deciding it.
Monday was no different as Davante Gardner's tip-in with 4:58 left gave No. 22 Marquette the lead for good in a 74-71 victory over No. 12 Syracuse on Monday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Gardner's shot made it 56-55 -- Marquette's first lead since early in the first half -- and sparked an 11-2 run as the Golden Eagles won their 24th consecutive home game.
Junior Cadougan and Jamil Wilson each added 12 points for the Golden Eagles (20-7, 11-4 Big East), who shot just 39.1 percent from the field in the second half but made up for it with a 29-of-35 performance at the free throw line. Syracuse had just seven free-throw attempts.
Gardner himself outscored the Orange at the line, converting 12 of 13 shots -- and making all seven of his shots from the field -- to finish with a career-high 26 points.
"When I was young, my dad and mom used to stretch me out on free throws," Gardner said. "They didn't worry about anything else. Just work on my free throws."
The victory pushed Marquette ahead of Syracuse and idle Louisville into sole possession of second place in the Big East, a half-game behind first-place Georgetown, and extended its home winning streak to 24 games -- the second longest in the nation.
"It's a great environment," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "If you're going to have a chance to win at anything, you need to win at home. If you do that, you're going to be in the mix for something. The streak we've been on ... I don't know we'd be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament without that streak."
Marquette caught a break when James Southerland was called for his fourth foul with Syracuse up 46-44 and 11:46 to play. He had scored nine of his 15 points at that point, but more important, he had been a defensive thorn in the Golden Eagles' side for most of the game.
But Marquette couldn't take advantage of his absence, missing their next six shots while Syracuse extended its lead to 53-46 with 9:09 left.
Todd Mayo broke Marquette out of the slump with a 3-pointer to make it 53-50 with 7:24 to go. Syracuse missed two chances on its next possession, and Jamil Wilson made two free throws with 6:52 left to pull Marquette to one.
"We scored enough points tonight," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I just think our defense wasn't good enough."
C.J. Fair scored 20 points and Michael Carter-Williams finished with 14, including a 3-pointer that got the Orange (22-5, 10-3) within two in the final seconds, but Syracuse ran out of time.
"They did a good job banging on the offensive glass," Fair said. "We played solid defense, but we just let them catch some momentum in the second half and we really didn't convert on offense in the last few minutes like we needed to."
The tone was set early for a physical defensive battle. After the Orange jumped out to a 7-1 lead, Marquette answered with a 7-1 run capped by a Vander Blue 3-pointer with 15:19 left in the half.
With the score tied at 14, Syracuse went on another run, going ahead by 11 on Brandon Triche's jumper. After making five of their first nine shots from the field, the Golden Eagles missed nine in a row against Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense, finally ending the drought with a Gardner layup that made it 24-16 with 3:49 left in the half.
Once again, the Golden Eagles came storming back, pulling within four when Jake Thomas drew a foul on a falling-down 3-pointer from the corner, making it 29-25 with 1:24 left. After an Orange turnover, Cadougan went end to end and made it a two-point game with 1:02 left.
Marquette trailed 32-29 at the break.
NOTES: With Syracuse moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Monday marked the last conference meeting between the Orange and Golden Eagles, against whom Syracuse is 5-3 since the 2005 season. ... Carter-Williams entered the game second in the nation in assists, averaging 8.0 per game. He finished with 5 against Marquette. ... The Golden Eagles' bench scored 55 points Monday and accounts for 43.3 percent of the team's points, the fourth-highest percentage in the nation after averaging just 16.7 points per game last season. ... Syracuse has won 32 of its last 38 Big East games. ... Former Golden Eagles standout Jimmy Butler -- now with the NBA's Chicago Bulls -- was in attendance .. Syracuse has lost two consecutive games for just the second time this season.