Balanced effort lifts Pitt to victory over Syracuse
There was a time when Pitt was unbeatable against top-10 opponents at Petersen Events Center, back before the Panthers lost to No. 8 Cincinnati in the Big East opener.
Against Syracuse, Pitt was once again good as gold.
Behind balanced scoring and a patient approach to Syracuse's signature zone defense, the Panthers defeated the No. 6 Orange, 65-55, on Saturday before a standing-room-only Gold Out crowd of 12,632.
Pitt (18-5, 6-4) improved to 13-1 all time against top-10 opponents at The Pete. The Panthers were 1-3 against top-25 teams this season, including a 64-61 loss at No. 12 Louisville on Monday that dropped them to eighth place.
“I think they'll be difficult to beat the rest of the way,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the Panthers. “I'll be surprised if they lose many games. I like their team. I think it's a very, very good team. They're the best team we've played, without any question. It's not even close.”
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has won 10 of 13 meetings with Boeheim, and the Panthers have won six of seven at home against Syracuse since March 2001.
This one came despite Pitt not having a scorer in double figures until redshirt senior guard Tray Woodall (13 points) sank 6 of 7 free throws in the final 1:02.
Pitt committed a season-high 20 turnovers but also assisted on 19 of its 24 baskets, often passing around the perimeter and into the high post while working the shot clock.
“We just wanted to keep swinging, make that zone move, get an inside touch and keep that ball moving,” said Pitt junior forward Lamar Patterson, who had a team-best five assists. “It's hard to guard when the ball is moving because they have to move with the ball and attack the gap. We were just taking what they were giving us.”
Syracuse (18-3, 6-2) used an 8-0 run capped by a tip dunk from C.J. Fair for a 12-5 lead at 12:48 of the first half. But the Orange watched their advantage slip away as Pitt took a 27-25 halftime lead on Talib Zanna's two-handed dunk.
The turning point for the Panthers came about eight minutes into the second half, when they worked the clock until J.J. Moore found a screaming Cameron Wright open on the left wing for a 3-pointer that broke a 35-all tie and gave the Panthers a lead they wouldn't surrender.
“He definitely hit a big shot,” Woodall said. “We didn't want to give up the lead, and he did a good job of knocking that shot down.”
Wright also made two free throws in place of center Steven Adams, who left the game with a swollen eye, for a 52-45 lead with 4:06 left. After making only 3 of 12 free throws at Louisville, Pitt sank 9 of 11 in the final 2:05.
With center DaQuan Coleman (knee) and forward James Southerland (eligibility issue) out, Syracuse is down to seven scholarship players. Fair scored a game-high 20 points, but guards Brandon Triche (14) and Michael Carter-Williams (13) shot a combined 7 of 26.
The Panthers, who go 10 deep, capitalized as their bench outscored the Orange, 31-3. Dixon was most pleased that Pitt finished with a plus-15 rebounding margin, 39-24, as Zanna (12) and Adams (seven) combined for 10 offensive.
It was a pivotal victory for Pitt, which plays host to Seton Hall (13-9, 2-7) at 9 p.m. Monday, followed by games against Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Marquette.
“It gives them a real feel for how Pitt is,” Patterson said of what it meant to Pitt's four newcomers. “We don't lose games at home. I know we've lost some games here, but we've been real successful against top-10 teams here.”