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."
The Orange defense certainly does.
With a second suffocating performance at the East Region, 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 Big East schools became a struggle on the offensive end. Syracuse (30-9) was led by senior forward James Southerland's 16 points. Guard Michael Carter-Williams was named the region'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 all season, and it put up 74 in a victory over Syracuse on Feb. 25. This time it kept turning the ball over, having its shots blocked or just missing.
The Golden Eagles' 39 points were a record low for a team in a region 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."
That was much like what happened Thursday in the region semifinals when Syracuse knocked off top-seeded Indiana by limiting the Hoosiers to a season-low output.
"I don't think we've played as good defensively as these last two games," Triche said. "We held some good teams down."
Marquette made 12 of 53 shots — 23 percent — and 3 of 24 3-pointers. Vander Blue, who carried Marquette to the round of eight, was held to 14 points on 3 for 15 shooting.
"They cover ground really good," Blue said. "You've got to get the ball in the middle, you've got to play inside out, you've got to get to the free-throw line and wear them down with the 3-pointer when you can. They're really good at what they do in that zone."
Through four games, Syracuse is averaging 6.5 blocks and 10.8 steals while forcing opponents into 29 percent shooting, including 15 percent on 3-pointers.