Marquette (22-14), which registered its second win of the season over its Big East foe, advanced to the regional semifinal Friday night in Newark, N.J., against No. 2 seed North Carolina.
It was a bittersweet night for Waiters, a graduate of Burlington Life Center Academy in South Jersey.
The 6-foot-4 guard played the final 16 minutes, 4 seconds of the game after starter Brandon Triche injured his tailbone on an offensive foul call and left the game for good. Waiters scored 16 of his career-high 18 points in that time, going 8 of 10 from the field overall and knocking down the only three-ball of the second half for Syracuse (27-8).
However, Waiters was the central figure in the game's pivotal play, which came with the score tied at 59 following a three-point basket by Marquette's Jae Crowder.
After an Orange timeout, Waiters went to the near sideline in the frontcourt to inbound the ball, but he threw it while Scoop Jardine was still trying to get away from his defender. The ball glanced off Jardine's hands, and he stepped on the midcourt line as he tried to save it, an over-and-back violation.
"It was a missed communication," a disconsolate Waiters said. "It was the turning point of the game. I don't even know what to say, man."
"You've got a freshman taking it out," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He had to wait for Scoop to get clear a little bit. It's just one of those things.
"It was just a missed communication. We were looking for Kris [Joseph] first, but he was covered, and we had Scoop coming back. It wasn't just one guy. It was one play."
Johnson-Odom, one of the Big East's most prolific three-point shooters, then buried a trey over Waiters for the winning points. Jardine missed a three-ball on the Orange's next trip and Crowder and Junior Cadougan iced the game with a pair of free throws apiece.
Rick Jackson, Jardine's teammate at Neumann-Goretti High, had an dissatisfying finish to his collegiate career. Facing constant double-teaming by the Golden Eagles, Jackson had just seven points and four rebounds, as compared to his season averages of 13.3 and 10.5.
"I knew it was going to be a fight down to the last minute," Jackson said. "Marquette is a good team. I think we just had a little breakdown at the end. They got guys open, and good players make open shots. You can't leave anybody open."
Jardine, playing with a sore left wrist that he injured in Friday night's win over Indiana State, had six assists to go with six points but made just 2 of 8 shots.
Waiters had everything to do with Syracuse's staying in the game. Over a stretch of 5:40 in the second half, he accounted for 11 of the Orange's 15 points, including a long jumper that gave Syracuse a 46-41 lead that equaled the largest margin of the half.
"Dion had a great second half," Boeheim said. "He really took what was there. He made some great plays on the offensive end."
There were other areas that led to the Syracuse defeat. The Orange committed 18 turnovers, which the Golden Eagles converted into 23 points. Boeheim was irked by the fact his team was called for six offensive fouls.
But Waiters will remember just one play, for a while.
"I wanted to do it for Rick," he said. "Everything he did for us, he put us on his back. You feed off him. I just feel bad. We came up short in a game that we had. It's crazy. We had it."
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org.