Dion Waiters knew exactly what was about to happen.
With most of Syracuse’s 23 point lead gone with under five minutes to play, Darius Johnson-Odom found himself at the top of the key and was ready to launch a 3-pointer that would put Marquette within one point of the lead.
But Waiters closed quickly on Johnson-Odom and—like a defensive back rising to block a field goal—stuffed the shot. Waiters corralled the ball and won a foot race down the floor for a contested layup, giving Syracuse a 63-57 lead, and some much-needed breathing room.
SU would go on to win 73-66, preserving its perfect 17-0 (4-0 Big East) record.
“It was big,” Waiters said. “A momentum changer.”
Waiters was able to make the play because he had seen a pattern in Marquette’s offense. In two previous plays, Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder had drained 3s because Syracuse had collapsed on dribble penetration, leaving a wide open shooter at the arc.
Waiters wasn’t about to allow it to happen again.
“I just told myself that they were going to drive and kick it out to (Johnson-Odom),” Waiters said. “He has a great pump fake. He didn’t pump fake.”
And that allowed Waiters to make the play of the game.
“He made one really good one near the end and this was a tough one,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “But we didn’t want him shooting the three near the end and Dion made a great play.”
Waiters followed that with a nice pass to Kris Joseph on the baseline, and the senior nailed a 3 to deflate any chances of a Golden Eagle upset.
It allowed Syracuse to avoid what would’ve been a tough loss. The Orange built a 23 point lead in the first half that Marquette was able to shave down to two at one point in the second half.
“That’s the best thing about this team, facing the adversity,” Waiters said. “We need games like this to help us down the line. We were able to overcome it.”
Waiters finished with 12 points, seven assists and three steals as the Orange exacted some revenge on Marquette. The Golden Eagles beat Syracuse twice last season, including in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
“(Marquette is) a great team,” Waiters said. “They were scrappy. We knew they were going to throw punches. We just had to throw punches back.”
Kicia Sears contributed to this article with reporting from Syracuse.