Pitt sent home with loss to Syracuse in Big East quarterfinals

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 3:45 p.m.

NEW YORK — Just when Pitt solved its first-half struggles by playing more physical, shutting down James Southerland from beyond the arc and trimming a 13-point deficit to one, the Panthers encountered another problem.

They couldn't stop Michael Carter-Williams.

The Syracuse sophomore point guard sandwiched four free throws around a steal in the final 28.4 seconds to end Pitt's comeback hopes and lead the fifth-seeded Orange to a 62-59 victory over the fourth-seeded Panthers on Thursday in a Big East Tournament quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden.

It was a bittersweet exit from the Big East for the Panthers (24-8), who won 11 of their final 14 games to earn a double bye only to lose their first tourney game for the fourth time in five years. It was their final game in the Big East tourney, as both Pitt and Syracuse are leaving for the ACC in July.

The Panthers (24-8) await Selection Sunday and their certain at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament as they return to the Big Dance after missing last season for the first time in 11 years.

“We just didn't get it done in the first half,” said senior guard Tray Woodall, who had 12 points and three assists. “In the second half, I'm proud of my guys. We fought back but we fell short.”

Syracuse (25-8) advances to play Georgetown (25-5) in Friday's semifinals thanks to the hot shooting of Southerland. The 6-foot-8 senior swingman, who missed Pitt's 65-55 victory over Syracuse on Feb. 2 because of academic issues, scored 17 of his game-high 20 points in the first half by making five 3-pointers.

“He was just unconscious,” Woodall said. “He wasn't missing a shot.”

Southerland was 6 of 6 from beyond the arc, setting a Big East tourney record for 3s without a miss. It also marked the most 3s made by a player against Pitt in the Big East tourney, and Syracuse's 12 treys were the most allowed by the Panthers this season.

“You turn your head for a second, and he's going off-screen. If you arrive late, he's 6-9 so he's going to shoot over you,” said Lamar Patterson, who led Pitt with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “He's not a typical guard.”

Syracuse used a 15-1 run to turn a 14-12 deficit into a 27-15 lead, as Brandon Triche made one trey and Southerland added two. The Panthers, meantime, went 5:33 between baskets.

Syracuse took a 40-27 lead into halftime. The second half saw Pitt dominate the boards, enjoying a plus-16 rebounding margin after being beaten, 18-14, in the first half. Pitt also limited Southerland to one 3-pointer, which gave the Orange a 55-47 lead with 5:31 remaining.

The Panthers made it a one-point game after Woodall got a three-point play when he drew a foul and a goaltending call on a breakaway layup and Talib Zanna scored on a put-back with 30.1 seconds left.

Zanna, however, missed the potential tying free throw.

Carter-Williams made two free throws to give the Orange a 60-57 cushion then stole a James Robinson pass intended for Woodall and drew another foul. Carter-Williams, who finished with 11 points, seven assists and three steals, made two more free throws with 10.7 seconds remaining before Patterson's tip in with 0.2 left.

“We outplayed them in the second half,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We outhustled them, outrebounded them by a big number — 16, which speaks volumes about our team. ... But we've got to recognize what we did in the first half and what happened.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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