When played to perfection, there’s nothing quite like Syracuse’s assertive, 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 actually does.
With a 2nd suffocating performance at the East Regional, No. 4-seeded Syracuse Orange shut down No. 3 Marquette 55-39 to earn Coach Jim Boeheim his 4th trip to the Final 4 – and 1st since a freshman named Carmelo Anthony helped win the 2003 NCAA championship.
”An incredible, amazing 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. Orange (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, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals and just one turnover Saturday.
Marquette Golden Eagles (26-9) hadn’t scored less than 47 points all season – and, indeed, put up 74 in a victory over Syracuse Orange on February 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 last since the shot clock was introduced in 1986. Football odds
”They beat us from start point to finish. We collectively tried everything we knew to try,” Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams recounted. ”It is the zone, and it’s the players in the zone.”
Much like what happened Thursday in the regional semifinals, when Syracuse knocked off top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers by limiting it to a season-low output, too.
”I don’t think we’ve played as good defensively as these last 2 games,” Triche declared. ”We held some good teams down.”
All told, Marquette made only 12 of 53 shots – 23 percent – and was 3 for 24 on 3-pointers. Vander Blue, who carried Marquette to the round of 8, was held to 14 points on 3-for-15 shooting.
”They cover ground really good. You need to get the ball in the middle, you’ve got to play inside out, you need to get to the free-throw line and wear them down with the 3-pointer when you can,” Blue declared. ”They’re really good at what they do in that zone.”
Consider these numbers through 4 games in the tournament: Syracuse is averaging 6.5 blocks and 10.8 steals, while forcing opponents into 29 percent shooting, including 15 percent on 3-pointers.
”We could not get one to drop in from up close,” related Marquette’s Jamil Wilson, who was 0 for 5 on 3-pointers, One for 9 overall. ”We couldn’t get one to drop in from outside.”
Last season, Syracuse dropped a victory short of the final 4, losing to Ohio State Buckeyes in the round of 8.
”We needed to get over the hump,” Southerland expounded. ”That’s what I said to the guys: We’ve still got two more to go.”