With Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in attendance, Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 defense commandeered the East regional final, sending the Orange past Big East rival Marquette and into the Final Four with a 55-39 win on Saturday afternoon.
Syracuse reached the fifth Final Four in program history, the fourth under coach Jim Boeheim, the first since winning the National Championship in 2003 and the first at the Verizon Center, Georgetown's home.
Outside of the final six minutes of the first half, the Orange (30-6) controlled the game, holding double-digit leads in each half while limiting the Golden Eagles to their fewest points on the season. Marquette (25-9) shot an abysmal 22.6 percent (12 for 53) from the field. Watching the game, it's a amazing the Golden Eagles hit that many.
The regional's Most Outstanding Player, Michael Carter-Williams had 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists with only one turnover in 37 minutes. James Southerland had 16 points and three 3-pointers - as many as Marquette made as a team.
C.J. Fair had 13 points for the Orange, who will face the winner of the South Region next Saturday in Atlanta. No. 3 Florida and No. 4 play in the South regional finals on Sunday.
The Golden Eagles (25-9) made one 3-pointer over the final 37 minutes and finished 3 of 25 from beyond the arc. Vander Blue had 14 points, but missed 12 of 15 shots. Davante Gardner also had 14, but the Orange stymied the big man in the second half.
Both teams misfired early and often, but with its 2-3 matchup zone at suffocating best, Syracuse took a 19-7 lead with 6:32 remaining.
Marquette made only two field goals in that span, but came out of its slumber behind Gardner's shooting and passing touch. The wide-bodied big man scored or assisted on nine of the Golden Eagles final 11 points of the half and entered the locker room down 24-18, but would never get closer.
Syracuse opened the second half with a 13-7 spurt, capped by a Carter-Williams layup. It was coronation time over the final 10 minutes with the Golden Eagles stymied at every turn.
Gardner, who went 7 for 7 in Marquette's 74-71 win over Syracuse last month , made his first four and finished 6 of 9.
For long stretches of the regular season, Syracuse had the look of the team to beat thanks to an 18-1 start. Ending with 1-4 record - including a loss at Marquette and a 61-39 defeat in the same arena - changed that perception. Then came a run to the Big East Tournament finals, then came a run through the East Region.