Momentum is one heck of a drug.
It seems to capture the top team in America every game, and Saturday against a familiar foe was no different.
And the ‘Cuse needed every bit of it.
"It's not whether you win the first half or win the second half – you have to win the game," Coach Jim Boeheim said. "We did what we had to do to win the game."
In a game that began as a back-and-fourth affair because of fouls and turnovers, SU's defense once again fueled the offense on the way to an early cushion. It ended up as a 73-66 thriller, in which the Golden Eagles never held the lead though their athleticism and speed pushed the Orange to the brink in the second half.
Kris Joseph led the way for SU with 17 points, connecting on all four of his three-point attempts in the process. Brandon Triche added 16, most coming in the first 20 minutes when the game seemed like an easy Orange victory.
Before 25, 412 fans – the largest on campus crowd in college basketball thus far in the season – SU answered every challenge MU presented.
"The floor was shaking," Dion Waiters said. "It don't get no better than that here at ‘Cuse nation.
"That's the stuff you love."
The crowd was loudest when Syracuse pushed the lead to 26-12 with 5:13 left in the first half. The eruption was due to an offensive onslaught capped by an acrobatic lay-in from Waiters followed by a Joseph three-pointer from the top of the key.
SU's offense would not slow from there, as the unit pushed the lead to 35-12 on the heels of a 23-1 run that finished with just under two minutes left in the half. Five different Syracuse players scored in the run, led by Triche's seven points in the defensive-laden spurt.
Marquette would finally make a jumper on the ensuing possession, the Golden Eagles' first basket since the opening minutes of the game. MU actually finished the half on a 9-2 run of its own – though the scoreboard read 37-19 after 20 minutes of play.
It was a sign of things to come.
"(Jae) Crowder, I remember in the first half, he said ‘you know we're going to come back in the second half,'" Joseph said. "We knew.
"He didn't have to tell us."
The second half gave the home crowd something to worry about, as Marquette continued to put the ball in the basket. Fab Melo, who drew four charges in the first half, picked up and third foul less than 90 seconds into the half – and the Eagles closed the gap to 12 with nearly 19 minutes left in the game. Joseph was fouled on the ensuing possession – and connected on both free throws to halt a 6-0 run in the half and a 15-2 run overall by Marquette.
Davante Gardner would score after an offensive rebound the next time down the floor, and Vander Blue scored on the Eagles' next chance to close the gap to 39-29. The Orange then made a stop on defense, and Joseph swung the momentum on an open three-pointer from the corner.
Marquette would not go away, though.
With less than 15 minutes left in the game, Jae Crowder converted a layup to get the lead down to single digits – with the help of a Melo goaltend.
The Orange looked as if it would open the lead up again after another Triche three-pointer, this one in transition. However, Crowder would score on the next possession and Todd Mayo converted a pair of free throws to get the deficit to seven with 12-plus minutes remaining – the lowest it had been since the 11:31 mark of the opening half.
C.J. Fair made a pair of free throws, Melo came up with a steal and Joseph once again got the momentum on SU's side – this time with a thundering dunk.
But the Golden Eagles stormed back on a 10-2 run to get the lead all the way down to three points with 9:17 to play. Waiters then hit four straight free throws to push the lead once again, but Marquette would cut the lead to two on a Darius Johnson-Odom three-pointer with 5:15 to play.
Waiters blocked Johnson the next time down, and stormed on the way to the basket before converting a layup.
"Obvously Dion made a huge block and finished on the other end on Odom – but we made some good defensive plays at the end and made a couple more good offensive plays to win the game," Boeheim re-itterated.
It was all Orange from there, as Joseph nailed another three and Melo provided a pair of dunks in the final minutes to seal the deal.