Syracuse zones out Marquette
By Scott Cacciola, N.Y. Times News Service
WASHINGTON -- Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim can be a colorful presence on the sideline, each errant shot and missed opportunity giving him the license to showcase his full dramatic repertory, whether a stomp or merely a scowl.
Among the strange things in this NCAA tournament is that Boeheim has exhibited very little of that emotion. He has looked comfortable, completely at ease with the play of his team. It was more of the same during Syracuse's 55-39 victory over Marquette on Saturday in the East Region final.
Syracuse, the No. 4 seed, advanced to its fifth Final Four -- and its first since 2003 -- by confounding yet another opponent with its hallmark zone defense. The victim this time was third-seeded Marquette, which endured an unpleasant afternoon.
When they managed to avoid turning the ball over, the Golden Eagles looked as if they were shooting the basketball with oven mitts. Marquette shot 22.6 percent from the field, including 3 of 24 from 3-point range.
James Southerland led Syracuse (30-9) with 16 points, and Michael Carter-Williams, the team's long-limbed point guard, had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Next Saturday in Atlanta, Syracuse will face the winner of today's South Region final between Florida and Michigan.
Syracuse was no juggernaut on offense. Its first possessions of the second half included a missed layup, two missed jumpers and two turnovers in the backcourt.
But the Golden Eagles were even worse. After Marquette (26-9) misfired on another 3-pointer, Syracuse's Brandon Triche got loose for a fast-break layup, giving the Orange a 28-21 lead. By the time Syracuse's C.J. Fair tipped in a missed layup, the Orange had a 47-32 lead, which seemed insurmountable.
It felt like a home game for Syracuse, with the crowd heavily flecked with orange, all those fans turning Verizon Center into Carrier Dome South.
Syracuse, which will be part of the new-look Atlantic Coast Conference next season, had its share of Big East Conference tilts in this building against Georgetown. It was familiar ground for a meeting with another familiar opponent, Marquette, a fellow Big East member (for one more game, at least).
The two teams played each other only once this season, a 74-71 victory for Marquette on Feb. 25.
The Golden Eagles labored with their outside shooting in that game, going 5 of 21 from 3-point range, but they earned 35 trips to the free-throw line.
They had no such success this time around. In that respect, Marquette had company. Entering the game, the Orange's zone had limited opponents to 37.2 percent shooting this season, including 28.7 percent from 3-point range -- among the country's leaders in both categories.
Syracuse's first three opponents in the tournament were baffled by the zone. Montana, California and Indiana combined to clang their way to 31 percent shooting from the field.
From the start of Saturday's game, Marquette wanted to exercise patience on offense. With Junior Cadougan operating at the point, the Golden Eagles passed the ball around the perimeter and made cuts to the basket. Open space was a mirage, however, with Syracuse's long arms and quick feet filling any potential gaps.
At the other end, Carter-Williams, coming off a 24-point effort in Syracuse's Round of 16 win over Indiana, drove the lane every chance he got, drawing so much attention that teammates were freed for open shots and offensive rebounds. Such was the case when he misfired on a jumper midway through the first half. Fair was alone for a putback and a 12-5 lead. In the meantime, Marquette missed nine of its first 11 field-goal attempts.
The Golden Eagles appeared at a loss, which was not often the case this season. In his fifth season at Marquette, coach Buzz Williams has emerged as one of college basketball's most exuberant personalities, running preseason boot camps and making relentless pleas for energy, for loose balls, for floor burns.
At the same time, Williams has been an unabashed advocate of advanced statistics. He uses words like "analytics" and "sample size." By Friday afternoon -- less than 24 hours after his team had dispatched Miami in the regional semifinals -- he had watched film of Syracuse's last six games.
Yet even after all that study, Marquette still looked bewildered. Coming out of a first-half timeout, his team trailing by nine points, Marquette's Vander Blue tried to run a set play and wound up steamrolling his defender for a charging foul.
The Golden Eagles needed to get the ball inside, and eventually they did. If Marquette had a clear solution to make some space in the middle, it came in the form of Davante Gardner, a 6-foot-8, 290-pound junior whose body seems to have the general dimensions of an industrial-size meat locker.
Late in the first half, Gardner led a 10-2 run that cut Syracuse's lead to three points. He scored six points in the spurt -- all on soft jumpers inside the paint -- and it seemed reminiscent of his effort against Syracuse back in February, when he scored a season-high 26 points.
Still, Syracuse had a 24-18 lead at halftime after holding Marquette to 26.9 percent shooting while forcing eight turnovers.n