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Syracuse hands Marquette a zone-cold defeat

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Updated: May 30, 2013 5:27PM

WASHINGTON — The Syracuse zone is sort of like the weather. Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.

That was certainly the case Saturday, when Marquette, after buzzing around this NCAA tournament longer than expected, became the latest fly in the Orange ointment.

Syracuse and its impregnable 2-3 zone grounded the Golden Eagles 55-39 in an Elite Eight showdown between rivals from the Big East, which will implode this spring.

Marquette (26-9) scored the fewest points in an Elite Eight game since the shot clock was introduced in 1983 and shot an Elite Eight record-low 22.6 percent (12-for-53).

Before the Big East disappears, it has a chance to go out with a flourish. The Orange (30-9) will face the Michigan-Florida winner in the Final Four. And Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, will try to play its way to Atlanta against Duke on Sunday.

And don’t set any limits on Syracuse or its 2-3 zone just yet.

‘‘They beat us from start to finish,’’ coach Buzz Williams said. ‘‘We’re disappointed we didn’t have an opportunity to continue to play. But when we get beat, we get beat. I thought Syracuse was great from start to finish.’’

While disappointed, Marquette heads home to Milwaukee keeping things in perspective.

‘‘A lot of people take for granted how hard it is to get through the NCAA tournament,’’ Williams said. ‘‘People sometimes take for granted how much work goes into just [getting into the tournament]. As much as we want to go for the Final Four and the Elite Eight or Sweet 16, you can’t take for granted the work involved. But you don’t get to this point unless, from top to bottom, there is incredible love and incredible trust.’’

Heading into the new Big East, which includes seven basketball-only holdovers plus some serious newcomers (Butler, Creighton and Xavier), Williams has Marquette well-stocked.

Senior guards Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett are gone, and center Chris Otule might not return. But everyone else is back, including Vander Blue and Davante Gardner, who joined three Orange players on the All-East Regional team. And Williams has a strong recruiting class coming in.

The Golden Eagles, thought to be ripe for an upset by No. 14 Davidson in the first round, passed that test, then dispatched Butler and Miami, two more teams that were popular picks to end Marquette’s season.

President Obama, whose bracket had the Golden Eagles losing to Miami and Syracuse losing to Indiana on Thursday, was at the Verizon Center to watch his bracket-busters.

When Obama was shown on the video board with NCAA president Mark Emmert, the crowd jeered the NCAA chief, a point made clear when it cheered a solo shot of Obama.

The Golden Eagles found no way around the Orange, though. Syracuse, which led 24-18 at halftime, has given up 79 points in four NCAA first halves, or 19.7 per first half.

‘‘We just were not making shots we usually make,’’ said Blue, who had 14 points and shot 3-for-15 from the field. ‘‘Couldn’t get stops. And they were really good on the glass.’’

Gardner, a 6-8, 290-pound junior, gave Marquette a lift toward the end of the first half, but the Golden Eagles were unable to crack the Syracuse zone in the second half.

‘‘In the second half, Marquette got some open looks; they just couldn’t make anything,’’ said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, headed to his fourth Final Four and seeking his second national championship. ‘‘The other day, we didn’t give Indiana anything. It was really a defensive win. Today, our defense was good. The other day, it was tremendous.’’

And Marquette, after being locked in for its first three NCAA games, wasn’t able to put together the game it wanted.

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