No. 2 Syracuse holds off No. 22 Pitt, 59-54
By Kevin Gorman
Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 6:27 p.m.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Even though Tyler Ennis is only a freshman, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has seen enough of his point guard to know he carries a clutch gene.
Ennis made a pair of layups and two free throws in the final 1:48 to lead the No. 2 Orange to a 59-54 comeback victory over No. 22 Pitt on Saturday afternoon before 30,046 at Carrier Dome in an ACC game between the last two undefeated teams in league play.
Afterward, Boeheim mentioned Ennis' name in the same breath as Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara, the star freshmen on Syracuse's 2003 national champions.
“He made some of the best plays that I've seen in a long time,” Boeheim said. “You don't get to the basket against Pittsburgh, and he got to the basket for two layups and made his free throws. That's unusual for any player. He won the game down the stretch for us.”
Ennis helped Syracuse (18-0, 5-0), one of the last three undefeated teams in the country — top-ranked Arizona and No. 5 Wichita State are the others — keep its unblemished record intact. That's no small feat against the Panthers (16-2, 4-1), who were attempting to spoil Syracuse's perfect record for the third time in five seasons.
Pitt was kicking itself after winning the battle of the boards by a 35-24 margin, including 16 offensive rebounds to Syracuse's four. But the Panthers shot 38.3 percent (18 of 47) from the field and made only 13 of 23 free throws (56.5 percent). They committed more turnovers (11) than assists (10) for the first time this season. Syracuse, meantime, shot 51.2 percent (21 of 41) and made 13 of 18 free throws (72.2 percent).
“We came up here expecting to play well and win, and we had our opportunities and chances,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We had a three-point lead down the stretch with the ball, and we didn't get it done.”
Ennis, of Brampton, Ontario, made 5 of 8 shots from the field to lead the Orange with 16 points. The 6-foot-2 guard hit a 3-pointer late in the shot clock for a 37-27 lead with 14:27 remaining, giving Syracuse its first double-digit lead.
That awoke Lamar Patterson, the Pitt senior swingman who scored a game-high 18 points despite 6 for 15 shooting. Patterson missed his first three attempts but found his stroke on a 3-pointer off an inbounds play at 14:16. He sank another from deep on the left wing then drilled one from the top of the key for his third trey in a 66-second span.
When Patterson made his fourth 3-pointer at the 5:59 mark, it gave Pitt its first lead since 11:30 of the first half. Patterson made two free throws to stretch the lead to 52-49.
“I was feeling real confident, then he got those two easy layups. They were tough buckets,” Patterson said. “It was just one of those days where he got it done, and we didn't.”
Syracuse outscored Pitt, 10-3, in the final 4:41.
Jerami Grant drew a foul from Young and sank two free throws to cut it to 52-51 at 2:39.
That's when Boeheim cleared the court for Ennis, allowing him to beat the Panthers' man-to-man defense. He faked to his right, beating James Robinson to the left with his first step and then scoring on a scoop layup to the right side for a 53-52 lead.
With a chance to regain the lead, Patterson had to double clutch on a 3-point attempt. His shot bounced off the rim, but forward Mike Young got the rebound. Wright's 3-point shot from the left wing took a long bounce that Syracuse's Trevor Cooney recovered.
Ennis drove the lane again, this time catching the Panthers in a switch when Jerami Grant set a pick on Robinson. Talib Zanna tried to pick him up, but the 6-foot-2 Ennis drove left and scored over the 6-9 center for a 55-52 edge with 37.6 seconds remaining.
“We're trying to give him the opportunity that he can get to the basket,” Boeheim said. “He just has a knack for doing it that's as good as just about anybody that I've seen.”
Patterson's ensuing 3-point attempt was off the mark, but Young got the rebound and drew a foul with 4.8 seconds left. He made both shots, cutting it to 55-54, but Ennis answered with two free throws for a 57-54 lead with 4.8 seconds left.
Patterson missed two free throws — the second intentionally — with 2.7 seconds left, and Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas made two free throws with 1.2 seconds left for the final margin.
“It's definitely tough to go down how we went down,” Robinson said. “But it's still early in the season. We wanted to come here and get this win. We felt like we were ready. The coaches prepared us well.
“We just didn't get it done.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
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