Dion Waiters led the way with 15 points while Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph combined for 21, and it proved enough to fend off the feisty and physical Thundering Herd that would outscore the Orange by seven in the final twenty minutes of action.
But if the first play was indicative of the outcome, SU should have rolled to 9-0. After Rakeem Christmas won the tip, Jardine found Joseph on an easy alley-oop dunk. But the shot selection and ease of scoring would go downhill from there.
"They really got on the boards and exposed a weakness," coach Jim Boeheim said of Marshall. "We forced a lot of missed shots, but didn't get the ball back."
With both teams slow out of the gates, it was a matter of which unit would create easy shots for itself. That team would be Syracuse, and it utilized defense to fuel positive offense on the way to a trip of first-half runs. The first two were just 5-0 spurts, but the pressure of the 2-3 zone would lead to 10 steals in the opening 20 minutes, helping the Orange reach a lead as big as 16 at one point.
Still, the Herd was never out of it because of SU's poor shooting.
"Offensively, we are much better than what we showed," Joseph said.
Marshall would cut into it by the half, but only by three points. Both teams did not shoot well. The 17-4 run by SU lasted nearly five minutes, as steals led to easy dunks and lay-ins by Waiters and Brandon Triche. James Southerland hit a deep three-pointer near the end of the half, which stood as the final bucket though there were nearly two minutes remaining before the break.
The second half started as the first did, as both teams went back and forth in the scoring column. After both teams scored eight points, Syracuse opened up its biggest lead at 17 before Marshall finally found its touch from deep.
Before that point, the Herd settled for the outside shot, something the Orange wanted to focus on entering the game against what they considered a very dangerous team.
"It starts with us," Waiters said of the guards on defense. "If we can stop the guys from getting to the middle, everything opens up for us. "
It did, but the outside shot would finally fall for Marshall.
After finally making a pair of conversions from deep, after starting the game 0-16 from beyond the arc, Marshall closed the gap to nine points with four minutes to play. Fab Melo stopped the bleeding with a dunk on the next possession, and he duplicated the effort when the Herd cut the lead to nine with 1:37 to play.
But the visitors would not go away. Led by Dennis Tinnon's 17 points and 15 rebounds, the Herd was able to get plenty of extra chances near the end of the game.
The scrappy bunch would get it to eight with 23 seconds to play and down to six with less than a second left but SU held possession and made free throws on the way to the final margin.