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Marquette backup is eager to face Syracuse zone again

– With the Big East As We Know It coming to an end, Marquette coach Buzz Williams no doubt figured he’d seen the last of Syracuse’s zone for a while.

He’s got a 290-pound player on the bench who can’t wait to face it again.

“I know about spacing,” Davante Gardner said Friday. “So they’ll change it up and try to lock me down.”

It takes a bit of bravado for a backup junior forward to have a “bring it on” attitude over Syracuse’s 2-3 fortress, especially after the way coach Jim Boeheim’s team dominated Indiana on Thursday night, but Gardner had a standout game against the zone last month and can’t wait for the rematch when the third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-8) face the fourth-seeded Orange (29-9) today with a Final Four spot on the line.

“I love playing against athletic guys,” Gardner said. “Because they think they can just stop me. But I use my weight to push them around.”

A pair of good runs in this NCAA tournament has created one more reunion, with the Orange seeking to avenge a 74-71 loss in Milwaukee on Feb. 25.

The star that night was Gardner, who went 7 for 7 from the field, 12 for 13 from the line, grabbed eight rebounds and scored a career-high 26 points.

But, Gardner’s confidence aside, Williams has a message for anyone looking for a repeat performance: Get real.

“I don’t think he will play that well again. And that’s only because he’s never played that well before or since,” the Marquette coach said. “So he played incredible. But we do need him to play. If you look at the games where we’ve won, the games where we’ve lost, Davante is a big pendulum swing.”

Gardner’s 14 points helped secure Marquette’s win over Miami in the round of 16 on Thursday, putting the Golden Eagles closer to their first Final Four appearance since 2003. Syracuse also hasn’t been among the last quartet in a decade, when Carmelo Anthony led the Orange to the national title.

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