Darius Johnson-Odom missed key free throws in losses to Florida State, West Virginia and Villanova. So when he pump-faked UConn's Jerome Dyson into committing a foul on a 3-point attempt, with the Golden Eagles down by three and 41 seconds left, most Marquette fans were thinking about how many he'd miss and who to foul at the other end to have the best chance of getting the ball back in a one-possession game.
But when Johnson-Odom took the ball at the free throw line, the first-year member of the Golden Eagles, shooting just 52 percent from the line in Big East play, knocked down three in a row.
The defense then forced an air-ball on the other end, Jimmy Butler scored with less than three seconds left, and Marquette got its biggest win of the year.
Marquette enters the week at 4-5 in the Big East, still with ground to make up. But the Golden Eagles also enter it on a two-game winning streak. And not only does it have a win in the final couple of minutes to balance out the early losses, but Marquette also has a win without relying on its best player.
The Golden Eagles have leaned on Lazar Hayward, their senior all-everything forward who is more than capable of carrying the load for extended stretches. Hayward fouled out with 1:51 to play, and many in the crowd exhaled thinking the threat from the visitors was over.
Instead, Johnson-Odom and Butler were able to make the plays down the stretch to win it. Considering that both players struggled to take the team on their shoulders when they had the opportunity earlier in the year, that's a big reason for increased confidence going forward.
--Marquette handled the ball exceptionally well against UConn, committing just three turnovers. That and good defense on the shooters made up for the Huskies' huge advantage on the boards, as the Golden Eagles got out-rebounded by 19.
--The Golden Eagles leaned on the starting five most of the way against Connecticut. All five starters played at least 31 minutes -- and the one who played the least was Lazar Hayward, because of foul trouble. The three bench players who saw action -- Joseph Fulce, Dwight Buycks and Erik Williams -- combined for two points and six rebounds in 26 minutes.
ON THE SPOT: Marquette got destroyed on the boards against Connecticut, getting out-rebounded 44-25. It was able to make up for it by forcing more turnovers and playing strong on the defensive end, but that's a big gap to overcome on a nightly basis.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our margin is so slim that our games turn into a tractor pull. We don't ever think we're going to blow anybody out. We don't ever think anybody's going to blow us out, and we prepare and practice as if it's going to be a one- or two-possession game. And where I grew up, that's like watching a monster truck show. That's what it was." -- Marquette coach Buzz Williams, in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, after the victory over Connecticut.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Marquette took the first step toward salvaging its season with back-to-back wins over Rutgers and Connecticut. That gives the Golden Eagles a 4-5 record in Big East play, but two of those wins are over Top 25 opponents, with the UConn win joining the victory over Georgetown earlier in the year.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Lazar Hayward, G/F Jimmy Butler, G Darius Johnson-Odom, G David Cubillan, G Maurice Acker. Key Subs -- F Joseph Fulce, G Dwight Buycks, G Junior Cadougan, F Erik Williams.
Syracuse 76, Marquette 71
Marquette 82, Rutgers 59
Marquette 70, Connecticut 68
vs. DePaul, Wednesday, Feb. 3
at Providence, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. South Florida, Saturday. Feb. 13
vs. Pittsburgh, Thursday, Feb. 18
at Cincinnati, Sunday, Feb. 21
IN FOCUS: Could this be deja vu for the Golden Eagles, riding high coming off two consecutive Big East wins? DePaul awaits for a Wednesday home game. The Blue Demons handed Marquette the worst loss in a series of terrible losses on the year, coming back in the final seconds to win on an impossible buzzer-beater in the final seconds. A repeat performance would be disastrous.
--Marquette got a verbal commitment from high school senior D.J. Newbill. The 6-4 guard from Philadelphia plans to sign in the spring and join the team for the 2010-11 season.
--G Maurice Acker missed both of the 3-pointers he attempted against Connecticut. The senior entered the game having made 18 of his 23 attempts from beyond the arc in Big East play.
--G-F Jimmy Butler was the hero in the final seconds against UConn, hitting a fall-away