Fourth-seeded Syracuse (30-9) is headed to the Final Four for the fifth time, thanks to a decisive 55-39 victory over third-seeded Marquette Saturday in Washington, D.C.
The main question coming into the East Region Final at Verizon Center between Big East foes was how Marquette (26-9) would handle Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone.
The answer was: not very well.
The Golden Eagles had problems all day getting the ball past Syracuse’s perimeter defenders. When the Orange challenged them to shoot three-point shots, Marquette failed miserably, connecting on a horrid 3-of-24 from beyond the arc, good for 12.5 percent. The Golden Eagles weren't much better overall, shooting 23 percent.
Vander Blue made just two of nine three-pointers, while backcourt mate Junior Cadougan was 0-of-4 on three-point attempts. Golden Eagles forward Jamil Wilson shot 0-of-5 from three-point range.
The Golden Eagles had trouble getting the ball past the Orange’s tall trees, as Syracuse had height advantages at four of the five starting positions.
Marquette often could not get shots off until the 45-second shot clock had nearly run out. The Golden Eagles would pass and dribble the ball around the perimeter, and Syracuse’s length and athleticism made Marquette’s guards tentative in passing the ball inside. Syracuse’s suffocating defense forced Marquette to turn the ball over 13 times.
James Southerland led the Orange with 16 points. C.J. Fair scored 13 for Syracuse, and the versatile Michael Carter-Williams added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Davante Gardner scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds off the bench for the Golden Eagles to match Blue’s 14.
Syracuse didn’t burn up the nets, shooting just 38 percent, but it was more than good enough against the overwhelmed Golden Eagles, who cut Syracuse’s lead to 21-18 near the end of the first half, but never got closer.
After Blue opened the scoring with a three-point shot, Syracuse went on a 21-7 run. Marquette then scored eight straight points, four by Gardner, who pumped up the Golden Eagles fans. Syracuse went into the half with a 24-18 advantage after a three-pointer by Southerland.
The second half was more of the same, with Marquette flustered by the 2-3 zone. When the Golden Eagles did occasionally get the ball inside, they were usually frustrated by the length of Syracuse’s defenders.
After a slow start to the second half, Wilson hit a jumper for Marquette to cut the lead to 28-23 with 14:17 to go.
Syracuse then went on a 13-5 run behind six points from Fair and three from Carter-Williams to build the lead to 41-28 with 9:33 to go.
The Orange then put the game away with a transition dunk from Southerland followed by a tip-in by Fair a minute-and-a-half later. Fair’s left hand touched the ball about a foot-and-a-half above the rim to make it 47-32 with 4:44 remaining.
Cadougan hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 47-36 with 3:49 left in the game, but the Golden Eagles were not coming back against Syracuse’s stifling defense.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s fourth Final Four appearance will take place April 6 in Atlanta.
The Orange will play the winner of Sunday’s South Region Final between third-seeded Florida and fourth-seeded Michigan.
Article also posted at Examiner.com