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Archive for Monday, March 21, 2011

No. 11 seed Marquette tops 3rd-seeded Syracuse

Marquette's Chris Otule, left, goes in for a shot against Syracuse's C.J. Fair in the second half of an East regional NCAA college basketball tournament third-round game, Sunday, March 20, 2011, in Cleveland.

Marquette's Chris Otule, left, goes in for a shot against Syracuse's C.J. Fair in the second half of an East regional NCAA college basketball tournament third-round game, Sunday, March 20, 2011, in Cleveland.

March 21, 2011

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— Oh, is there ever a Buzz in the NCAA tournament.

Brent Williams is better known as Buzz — Coach Buzz if you play for Marquette — and his postgame celebrations have become the stuff of legend. On Sunday, he might have had his wildest yet.

His bald head glistening with sweat, he leaped in the air, pounded his fists on tables, shared tears and hugs with his family. He saluted the fans, slapped hands with band members and anyone he could touch wearing the Golden Eagles' gold and blue.

Williams is off to the round of 16 — and he wanted to bring the party with him.

Darius Johnson-Odom sparked the celebration by hitting a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 27 seconds left that sent Marquette to a 66-62 win over Big East rival Syracuse, putting the Golden Eagles in the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the first time in eight years.

"Luckily, I knocked the shot down," Johnson-Odom said.

Luck didn't set up the winner as much as the last sloppy pass in a turnover-marred game by Syracuse.

With 51 seconds left, Dion Waiters threw his sideline inbounds pass too high and close to the midcourt line. Scoop Jardine tiptoed over the line on his jump to snag the ball for a backcourt violation.

"I thought I had him and I was just trying to throw the pass where I thought he could catch it," Waiters said. "I don't know what happened."

Johnson-Odom delivered the shot of his career for a 62-59 lead and 11th-seeded Marquette is moving on to the round of 16 for the first time since Dwyane Wade led them to the Final Four in 2003.

The Golden Eagles will play No. 2 seed North Carolina (28-7) in the East regional semifinals Friday in Newark, N.J.

Marquette, known then as the Warriors, beat North Carolina to win the national championship in 1977.

At Marquette, there's always a link to the '77 team and its treasured coach, Al McGuire. Where most teams have a logo or a letter on the jersey, Marquette has "AL" at the neck.

Williams, Marquette's emotional coach, broke into a delirious celebration. He hugged his players, ran to press row and pounded the table. He pumped his fists toward the fans, then brushed past media to get to the seats and gave his wife and family kisses and a long, heartfelt embrace.

His beet-red face couldn't stop smiling as fans chanted his name and broke into the traditional "We are (clap-clap) Marquette!" cheer.

At the postgame news conference, his voice cracked and he paused to collect his thoughts when he described his relationship with his wife.

"All the people that were here, they care just as much as I do," he said. "It just so happens that I get to speak on their behalf. It's not about me. It's about all those people, just as much as it is our players."

This was the second straight early exit for third-seeded Syracuse (27-8). The Orange were a No. 1 seed last year and lost in the round of 16 to Butler.

"I thought it was just a great game," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.

Williams had 40 minutes of emotion bottled up because neither team could ever shake the other. It was a typical bruising Big East battle that could have been played at the Carrier Dome, the Bradley Center or Madison Square Garden.

Cleveland, though, is the setting for Williams' greatest coaching triumph.

Johnson-Odom scored 17 points and Jae Crowder had 16 for the Golden Eagles. Marquette beat the Orange in nearly every important category, from free throw shooting (19 for 23 vs. 5 for 7) to rebounding (30-24) to steals, assists — on it went.

Syracuse was doomed by 18 turnovers — the last one the most costly.

Marquette was one of a record 11 Big East teams to make the field — and the most scrutinized. With 14 losses and a 9-9 record in conference play, the Golden Eagles were a shaky pick when the brackets were announced.

Who's counting them out now?

The Orange, who were swept 2-0 by Marquette this season, saw their season come to a stunning end yet again. Waiters scored 18 points and Kris Joseph had 12, but no one else had any kind of offensive impact.

Rick Jackson, the Big East defensive player of the year, struggled in his final game for the Orange. He had seven points and four rebounds, numbers way below the double-double he averaged during the regular season.

Syracuse players sat in front of their lockers in stunned disbelief. Many of them were still in uniform 20 minutes after the game, almost afraid to accept that their hopes of an NCAA title had been dashed for the second straight year short of the Final Four.

"We're still the better team," Jardine said. "We fought all season and we had a good season, and to go out like this is tough."

After leading 19-9, Syracuse went into halftime down three.

For the next 20 minutes, no team could force an inch of breathing room. Waiters scored two straight baskets for a 46-41 lead, but Marquette's speed and quickness never let the Golden Eagles fall too far behind.

Syracuse lost guard Brandon Triche for most of the second half with a bruised tailbone. And the Orange got hurt on turnovers.

Crowder's 3 with 2:26 left tied the game at 59.

That's how it stayed — until Johnson-Odom set off a party.

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