The final 51 seconds of Syracuse University's 66-62 loss to Marquette in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday can best be described as a total meltdown. But the Orange -- denied the opportunity of a third consecutive Sweet 16 appearance -- perhaps lost the game long before things fell apart at the end.
Less than five minutes into the second half, sophomore guard Brandon Triche drove hard to the basket, ran into a Marquette defender while soaring for a layup and fell awkwardly to the floor. Triche limped off the court grabbing his back, later diagnosed as a bruised tailbone, and did not return.
While junior Scoop Jardine is essentially the team's point guard, the unruffled Triche is its most reliable ballhandler in the clutch and his presence was definitely missed as the game unfolded at Quicken Loans Arena.
"He wanted to go back in but I didn't think he could do it," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We would have liked to have him at the end."
On an inbounds play near halfcourt with 51 seconds remaining and the game tied at 59, Syracuse's Dion Waiters, who replaced Triche in the lineup, threw an errant pass toward Jardine, who was called for a backcourt violation. Jardine grimaced and smacked the ball in frustration after the play.
"It was a miscommunication," Boeheim said. "He was looking for Kris [Joseph] first and he was covered and Scoop was coming back and I think he needed to wait a second for him to get clear."
Marquette's Darius Johnson-Odom hit what proved to be the winner on a three-pointer from the top of the key with 26 seconds left.
"You have to defend, you can't just let anybody shoot," Syracuse senior Rick Jackson said. "We had a little breakdown at the end and guys got open. Good players make open shots and you can't leave anyone open."
Jardine was on the move and rushed a three-pointer with 18 seconds remaining that clanged off the backboard and rim. Jardine immediately fouled Junior Cadougan, who made both free throws. Waiters, who played well offensively in scoring a game-high 18 points, scored on a layup to cut the lead to 64-61 with 10 seconds left, then fouled Jae Crowder, who made both free throws.
For some reason, Marquette's Chris Otule fouled Jardine with 5.2 second left. Jardine made the first and missed the second but Jackson couldn't hold onto the rebound and Marquette, which finished 11th in the Big East, had the victory and a trip to the Sweet 16.
It was a disappointing conclusion to the season for the Orange (27-8), who after suffering through a four-game losing streak in late January regrouped to win eight of its last 12 to earn the No. 3 seed in the East Region. That meant a short trip to Ohio and potentially Newark, N.J. Not anymore.
No. 11-seeded Marquette (22-14) had plans to disrupt the Orange offense from the start. Jackson was double-teamed each time he touched the ball in the low post and finished with seven points, six under his average.
"I knew I was going to get doubled but I tried to find my teammates and find guys who were open," said Jackson, who was part of a recruiting class four years ago that included Niagara Falls native Jonny Flynn. "I really just tried to be a playmaker."
That's Jardine's role, but his job became more challenging once swingman Jimmy Butler, 6-foot-7 and equipped with long arms, was assigned to guard him. Jardine had six assists but was just 2 of 8 from the floor and the Orange committed 18 turnovers that were converted to 23 points.
"That was the story of the game, we turned over the ball quite a bit," said Joseph, who had 12 points and a game-high nine boards. "They are a team that pushes the ball whether it's a made or missed basket and we had to do a better job at getting back."
In Sunday's first game here, No. 1 seed Ohio State (34-2) put together the most dominant showing in the tournament thus far, dismantling eighth-seeded George Mason (27-7), 98-66, to advance to the Newark Regional.Marquette might have just enough to test the Buckeyes. It certainly made life miserable for Syracuse.