From boot camp to Elite Eight, Buzz Williams cajoled and prodded his Marquette players to a level he had never reached before as a coach. All the pointing and pleading in the world from the energetic Williams couldn't help when the Golden Eagles finally hit the wall, otherwise known as Syracuse's 2-3 zone.
Third-seeded Marquette lost 55-39 to No. 4 Syracuse on Saturday, setting new standards for offensive futility along the way. The Golden Eagles' point total was a record low for NCAA tournament regional final since the shot clock was introduced in 1986, as well as the lowest scored by Marquette in any game since 2005.
"They beat us, start to finish," Williams said. "We were prepared. We did all the preparation that we should have done leading to today's game. There were pockets of time when we were OK, but you don't shoot 53 shots and make 12 and say, 'We didn't make shots' or 'We weren't feeling good.'
"They beat us. And I mean that not sarcastically. I mean that as sincerely as I can say that."
The Golden Eagles shot 23 percent. They made 3 of 24 3-pointers. Vander Blue was 3 for 15 from the field and finished with an inefficient team-high 14 points. Junior Cadougan went 1 for 8, and Jamil Wilson was 1 for 9. Marquette had 0-for stretches of seven, six, six and nine shots.
All because it couldn't find a seam in a Syracuse zone that is allowing teams to shoot 29 percent from the field, including 15 percent from 3-point range, through four NCAA tournament games. Marquette performed much better in a 74-71 home win last month, but coach Jim Boeheim has the Orange (30-9) playing at a different level as March turns to April.
"I feel we got frustrated with it early," Wilson said. "And we started taking longer shots than we should have."
All of which prompted a Final Four prediction from the coach.
"I think they probably have guys on their team, after they win the national championship, may not play for Syracuse anymore," Williams said. "It is the zone, and it is the players in the zone."
Nevertheless, Marquette can hang its hat on a 26-9 season and its best tournament run since Williams arrived in 2009. The Golden Eagles' last two NCAA appearances stopped at the Sweet 16.
"It was a great season," Wilson said. "Obviously, it didn't end the way you wanted it to, but it has to stop sometime."
Williams wasn't ready for any grand thoughts to sum up the season. He spoke at length about the love and trust he developed for the players, starting at the preseason boot camp when they "go out in the woods where the cellphones don't work." The coach concluded it's all been "a whole lot of fun."
Any other reflections?
"Maybe in a few weeks," he answered.
Not only did Marquette's season end at Syracuse's expense, but the Big East foes also will be going their separate ways this summer, with the Orange departing for the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Golden Eagles joining a splinter group of basketball-centric schools that will keep the Big East name.
One advantage for Marquette: The Syracuse zone will no longer be a regular part of the itinerary.
"We'll miss not having them in our league," Williams said. "I think that institution and the program he has created is comparable to any in the country. They were fabulous."