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."

Much like what happened Thursday in the regional semifinals, when Syracuse knocked off top-seeded Indiana by limiting it to a season-low output, too.

"I don't think we've played as good defensively as these last two games," Triche said. "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 eight, was held to 14 points on 3-for-15 shooting.

"They cover ground really good. 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," Blue said. "They're really good at what they do in that zone."

Consider these numbers through four 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 couldn't get one to drop in from up close," said Marquette's Jamil Wilson, who was 0 for 5 on 3-pointers, 1 for 9 overall. "We couldn't get one to drop in from outside."

The next team to try to solve that defense will be the winner of Sunday's South Regional final between Florida and Michigan. Syracuse is 3-0 in national semifinal games under Boeheim.

And to think: Exactly three weeks ago, in this very same building, Syracuse wrapped up its final Big East regular-season schedule before heading to the Atlantic Coast Conference with a bad-as-can-be performance in a lopsided loss to Georgetown. Syracuse's 39 points that day were the Orange's tiniest total in a half-century.

That was Syracuse's fourth loss in a span of five games, a stumbling way to head into tournament play.

That night, Boeheim forgot to adjust his alarm clock to account for daylight saving time, and so showed up late for a pre-practice coaches' meeting. His players, turned out, had organized their own session without supervision, starting the work it would take to get going in the right direction.

"I watched them for a few minutes and it was really a good thing. I thought our practices were really good after that," Boeheim said. "You can turn things around in this game."

Since then, Syracuse has won seven of eight.

"When you bounce back like that, that says a lot about your kids, your team and your character," Boeheim said. "This is a heck of a bounce back."

And the secret to success? Defense, naturally.

"We got the right personnel for each key position," C.J. Fair said. "We got big long guards, we got big long forwards that can cover ground and our centers do a good job holding down the inside."

Because of that, Syracuse really needed only one run on offense in the second half, making five shots in a row during a spurt that gave it a 41-28 lead with 9 1/2 minutes left.

Last season, Syracuse fell a victory short of the Final Four, losing to Ohio State in the round of eight.

"We wanted to get over the hump," Southerland said. "That's what I told the guys: We've still got two more to go."

With President Barack Obama – a basketball fan who picked Indiana to win the title – and NFL Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins sitting in the crowd, Syracuse harassed Marquette into missing 14 of its first 15 tries from beyond the 3-point arc.

Marquette started 1 for 10 overall on field-goal tries, with Blue's 3-pointer about 1 1/2 minutes in the only make. He celebrated as though it came at the end of the game, not the outset, punching the air and tapping defender Triche on the back while heading to the other end of the court.

After Blue's 3, Marquette missed its next seven shots. There would be other such stretches. Six misses in a row. Six misses in a row. Even nine in a row.

The Golden Eagles also went nearly 6 1/2 minutes without a single field-goal attempt in the first half. Forget about putting the basketball through the net; Syracuse was so smothering, Marquette did not even manage to shoot.

When Southerland hit a 3, off a pass and screen by Carter-Williams, the Orange led 24-18 at halftime.

After helping cut down the net to celebrate Saturday, Southerland was asked whether he thought this sort of thing was possible when his team was leaving the same arena on March 9 after losing meekly to Georgetown.

"We just did a good job of recovering from that," Southerland explained, "and not sulking."

___

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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  • Louisville players celebrate following their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski

    Louisville players celebrate after their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. In the background Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, right, congratulates Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook

    Duke guards Rasheed Sulaimon, left, and Quinn Cook sit in the locker room after Louisville defeated Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan

    Louisville's Peyton Siva, left, and Chane Behanan, celebrate following their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Behanan was wearing the jersey of teammate Kevin Ware (5) who was injured during the game. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Louisville players walk to their locker room following the trophy presentation after their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rasheed Sulaimon

    Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon wipes his tears after Louisville defeated Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rick Pitino

    Louisville head coach Rick Pitino celebrates after Louisville defeated Duke 85-63 in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Mason Plumlee

    Duke forward Mason Plumlee looks at the clock in the final seconds of the the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Louisville won 85-63 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Peyton Siva

    Louisville guard Peyton Siva (3) holds up the regional trophy as Louisville players celebrate their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Peyton Siva

    Louisville guard Peyton Siva celebrates following Louisville's 85-63 win over Duke in Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Chane Behanan

    Louisville's Chane Behanan leaps in the air as he wears the jersey of injured teammate Kevin Ware as he and teammates celebrate their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Chane Behanan

    Louisville forward Chane Behanan (21) celebrates after Louisville's 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Louisville players celebrate following their 85-63 win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Russ Smith

    Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) goes up with a layup against Duke defenders during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Russ Smith, Mason Plumlee

    Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) goes up with a layup past Duke's Mason Plumlee (5) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Chane Behanan, Seth Curry

    Louisville forward Chane Behanan (21) goes after a loose ball in front of Duke's Seth Curry (30) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Louisville won 85-63 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Rick Pitino

    Louisville head coach Rick Pitino directs his team during the second half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Louisville won 85-63 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Chane Behanan, Mason Plumlee

    Louisville forward Chane Behanan (21) and Duke forward Mason Plumlee (5) reach for a rebound during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Seth Curry

    Duke guard Seth Curry (30) reacts during the second half of the Midwest Regional final against Louisville in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Louisville won 85-63 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Seth Curry, Russ Smith

    Duke guard Seth Curry (30) tries to pass the ball against Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Duke won 85-63 to advance to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Russ Smith, Quinn Cook, Mason Plumlee

    Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) goes up with a shot against Duke's Quinn Cook (2) and Mason Plumlee (5) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Gorgui Dieng, Mason Plumlee, Rasheed Sulaimon

    Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (10) comes down with a rebound between Duke's Mason Plumlee (5) and Rasheed Sulaimon, right, during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Mason Plumlee, Wayne Blackshear

    Duke's Mason Plumlee (5) blocks a shot by Louisville's Wayne Blackshear (20) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Mike Krzyzewski

    Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski argues a call with an official during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Louisville in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Quinn Cook, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Gorgui Dieng

    Duke guard Quinn Cook (2) goes up with a shot against Louisville's Chane Behanan (21), Wayne Blackshear (20), and Gorgui Dieng, right, during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear

    Louisville's Peyton Siva (3) and Wayne Blackshear (20) react during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Quinn Cook, Mason Plumlee

    Duke's Quinn Cook (2) passes the ball to forward Mason Plumlee during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Louisville in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rasheed Sulaimon, Gorgui Dieng

    Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon (14) goes up for a shot against Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (10) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Quinn Cook, Mason Plumlee

    Duke's Quinn Cook (2) passes the ball to forward Mason Plumlee during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Louisville in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rick Pitino

    Louisville head coach Rick Pitino argues a call during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear

    Louisville's Peyton Siva, left, Chane Behanan, center, and Wayne Blackshear (20) react to LKevin Ware's injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Mike Krzyzewski

    Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski directs his team during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Louisville in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Russ Smith, Duke's Mason Plumlee, Josh Hairston

    Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) tries to pass the ball against Duke's Mason Plumlee and Josh Hairston (15) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Russ Smith

    Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) smiles as he talks to an official during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Montrezl Harrell, Josh Hairston

    Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell (24) tries to keep control of the ball against Duke forward Josh Hairston during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear

    Louisville's Chane Behanan, foreground, and Wayne Blackshear (20) react to guard Kevin Ware's injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Louisville players huddle after guard Kevin Ware was taken out of the game after an injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Russ Smit, Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan

    Louisville's Russ Smith (2), Gorgui Dieng (10) and Chane Behanan react to guard Kevin Ware's injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Mason Plumlee, Chane Behanan, Gorgui Dieng

    Duke forward Mason Plumlee (5) tries to pass the ball against Louisville forward Chane Behanan (21) and center Gorgui Dieng (10) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Kevin Ware

    Louisville guard Kevin Ware is taken off of the court on a stretcher after his injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Kevin Ware

    Louisville players talk to guard Kevin Ware after Ware's injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rick Pitino, Kevin Ware, injury, injured

    Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and trainers tend to injured guard Kevin Ware during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament against Duke, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Ware badly injured his lower right leg and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Wayne Blackshear (20) and Chane Behanan

    Louisville's Wayne Blackshear (20) and Chane Behanan (21) react to Kevin Ware's injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Rick Pitino, Kevin Ware, injury, injured

    Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and trainers tend to injured guard Kevin Ware during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament against Duke, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Ware badly injured his lower right leg and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Kevin Ware

    Trainers and medical personnel treat Louisville guard Kevin Ware after an injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Kevin Ware

    Trainers check on Louisville guard Kevin Ware (5) after Ware injured his lower right leg during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. Ware left the court on a stretcher. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Kevin Ware

    Louisville guard Kevin Ware (5) reacts as trainers look at his injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

  • Louisville players huddle as guard Kevin Ware is treated for an injury during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva

    Duke's Mason Plumlee, right, battles for a rebound against Louisville's Gorgui Dieng (10) and Peyton Siva (3) during the first half of the Midwest Regional final in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell

    Louisville players Russ Smith (2), Gorgui Dieng (10) and Montrezl Harrell, right, react to an injury to guard Kevin Ware during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng, Montrezl Harrell

    Louisville players Russ Smith (2), Gorgui Dieng (10) and Montrezl Harrell, right, react to an injury to guard Kevin Ware during the first half of the Midwest Regional final against Duke in the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 31, 2013, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)