Scattered thoughts. I’m not up to doing a coherent analysis, and I’d rather get this out of the way so that I don’t have to think about it tomorrow:
Even though Waiters played well on offense, he was the one who left Johnson-Odom open with 30 seconds to go. I don’t want to kill the kid because he is going to win a lot of games for us the next couple of years, and overall he performed admirably when pressed into duty in the most high-pressure situation he’s had to face. But the facts is the facts. In a tie game you CANNOT give up an open three-pointer. NOT NOT NOT. Particularly to a guy who shoots near 40%. Going down by three at that point limits your options so severely that you almost have to defend as if you are up by three and force a guy to drive the lane. Brandon’s defense was sorely missed on that play.
Just like the last game, Marquette shot 16 more free throws than SU, despite their aggressive defensive style which you’d think would lead to more fouling. I’m not sure what it is about guys that are shorter but built like tanks, like Crowder and Johnson-Odom, but for some reason those guys don’t get called for fouls nearly as often when they are guarding bigger players. Meanwhile, not only did they shoot a lot more foul shots, but they made a ton of them. 82% as a team. Guys like Crowder (a 59% shooter, made 7 of 8), Otule (57% shooter, made 4 of 6), and Cadougan (60% shooter, made 3 of 3). It was demoralizing.
I found myself as time went on questioning Boeheim’s lineup choices. I’m sure he had a good reason for it, and saw something he was trying to exploit. But a combined 9 minutes from Fab and Keita, and only 14 for Fair, while Southerland got 21, I just didn’t understand. James played pretty well, but I cringed every time I saw him handling the ball in late game situations. He didn’t have the confidence to be out there and make crisp plays. He hasn’t been on the floor late in a close game since January.
But what really cost them this game was the bonehead stuff. I’ve tried to be positive all season, emphasizing the good while glossing over the bad. But this game it was as if all the bad habits that had cropped up from time to time throughout the year decided to show themselves once again. The intentional foul by Kris. Scoop jacking a three rather than holding for the last shot of the first half. Trying to force passes into Jackson at all costs, blatantly, so that the defense could lie in wait and knock the pass away. Turning it over when you have possession with a minute left in a tie game, on a backcourt violation (even if, as may be the case, that was an incorrect call). Scoop’s off-balance three-point attempt with 20 seconds left, down by three — we all knew he was going to shoot it, of course, and we’d be worshipping at his feet had it gone in, but it still wasn’t the best choice. How do you outshoot your opponent 55% to 41% and lose? Now we know.
This team, for all its talent, ended up costing themselves the game — costing themselves the season — by making too many mistakes. Marquette forced some of them, but there were more than enough self-inflicted wounds too. I’ve watched a ton of basketball this weekend, and seen a lot of teams rise to the occasion, even in losing efforts. This tournament focuses players and gets them to play their best. But that didn’t happen for SU. They claimed to be hungry, to be ready, but it didn’t show. I still believe that if this team had ever learned to play consistently well for 40 minutes, they’d have had a good chance to go to the Final Four. They just had to play smart. Make good choices. Treat each possession - on both ends of the floor - like the game was on the line. This is the kind of intensity that has been on display all weekend. Syracuse played like that a few times this year: against Michigan State in December, against Notre Dame in January, and at UConn in February. I know they are capable of it, or should I say they were capable of it. I wish I knew what switch had to turn on to make it happen all the time. I’m sure Boeheim wishes the same thing.