WASHINGTON — When played to perfection, there’s nothing quite like Syracuse’s aggressive, half-court 2-3 zone defense.
It’s 40 minutes of trapping and shot-challenging, of closing off angles, of trusting teammates.
“We showed,” senior guard Brendan Triche said, “that defense wins games.”
Yes, the Orange D certainly does.
With a second suffocating performance at the East Regional, No. 4-seeded Syracuse shut down No. 3 Marquette 55-39 Saturday to earn coach Jim Boeheim his fourth trip to the Final Four — and first since a freshman named Carmelo Anthony helped win the 2003 NCAA championship.
“A tremendous, tremendous defensive effort,” Boeheim said.
Fittingly, a matchup between schools from the soon-to-break-apart, rough-and-tumble Big East became quite a struggle on the offensive end. Syracuse (30-9) was led by senior forward James Southerland’s 16 points. Michael Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-6 guard who is out front in the zone, was named the regional’s top player after accounting for 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals and only one turnover Saturday.
Marquette (26-9) hadn’t scored fewer than 47 points all season — and, indeed, put up 74 in a victory over Syracuse on Feb. 25. But this time, Marquette kept turning the ball over, seeing its shots blocked or just plain missing.
The Golden Eagles’ 39 points were a record low for a team in an NCAA tournament regional final since the shot clock was introduced in 1986.
“They beat us from start to finish. We collectively tried everything we knew to try,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “It is the zone, and it is the players in the zone.”
All told, Marquette made only 12 of 53 shots — 23 percent — and was 3 for 24 on 3-pointers.