SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A week after one of the most excruciating meltdowns in school history, Syracuse is back in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth.
The freshman duo of Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene both scored 21 points, and the Orange beat Marquette (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 21 AP) 87-72 on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams.It was a must-win game for the Orange (19-12, 9-9 Big East), who won their second straight after squandering an 11-point lead in the final 3½ minutes and losing at home to Pitt last Saturday."This has got us thinking about the NCAA," said Flynn, who also had seven assists and two of the Orange's 10 steals. "Now, we've just got to keep winning."Syracuse had won only two of its previous seven games to seriously jeopardize its chances of securing a postseason spot and was in desperate need of a quality win. Marquette (22-8, 11-7), which had won six of seven, obliged by not displaying its usual tough defense.In the previous five games, the Golden Eagles had forced an average of 23 turnovers that they converted into 27.4 points per game -- or nearly 37 percent of the team's offense in those games. Against turnover-prone Syracuse, the Golden Eagles, the league leader in steals, forced only six in the decisive second half and scored just five points off those mistakes."We've just got to have a different defensive attitude," coach Tom Crean said. "The story of the game for us was we did not create enough points off our defense. That's how we play. We weren't physical enough, we weren't aggressive enough and they capitalized."Arinze Onuaku, a huge presence in the low post, and Paul Harris both finished with 14 points for Syracuse, while Kristof Ongenaet had nine points, four assists, three blocks and two steals.Jerel McNeal led Marquette with 22 points and Wesley Matthews had 14. Dominic James and Lazar Hayward both finished with seven points after entering the game averaging over 13 in league play.Three weeks after upsetting then-No. 8 Georgetown 77-70, the Orange posted their second victory this season over a ranked team by shooting 18-of-26 (69.2 percent) in the second half and scoring 24 fast-break points.Greene started a 13-5 spurt early in the second half that gave Syracuse a double-digit lead the Golden Eagles couldn't overcome.After McNeal's follow moved Marquette within 39-37 less than 2 minutes into the period, Greene hit a hook off the glass and Ongeneat followed with two dunks, the second off his steal in the lane from Hayward and a court-long dash. Ongenaet was fouled on the shot and completed a three-point play for a 49-40 lead at 16:46.Greene's 3 boosted the lead to 52-42 and the Orange never let Marquette get closer than 10 the rest of the game."This is by far the best basketball we've been playing this year," Flynn said. "Everybody is playing good. It's not like the beginning of the season when we had one or two guys playing well and the other guys not so good."Every time Marquette threatened in the closing minutes, the Orange responded. After Matthews converted a follow to move Marquette within 72-62 at 6:01 to make the Orange faithful a little uneasy, Onuaku scored off the glass, Scoop Jardine hit Ongenaet with a perfect lob, and Harris hit a 3 that bounced off the front of the rim and rolled in to make it 80-64 with 2:52 left"We were really smart at the end of the game. We made really good plays the last five minutes," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "This was our best all-around game in terms of offense and defense. We showed that we're getting better. We got the ball in the right places better than we have all year. It's taken us a while to get to that point."