Syracuse expects Southerland to make difference against Pitt
NEW YORK — Jim Boeheim backed off his words but only a little bit.
The Syracuse coach called Pitt “the best team we've played” after the Panthers' 65-55 victory over the then-No. 6 Orange on Feb. 2 at Petersen Events Center.
“I don't know if I said they were the best team — certainly against us they were the best team — but they've really played well against us,” Boeheim said Wednesday, following a 76-63 victory over Seton Hall.
“Until the last Georgetown game (a 61-39 loss March 9), that was the most clearly we were beaten this year, at Pittsburgh.”
The ACC-bound teams will meet again at Madison Square Garden, when No. 4 seed Pitt (24-7) plays No. 5 Syracuse (24-8) at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Big East quarterfinals.
It's their first meeting in the Big East Tournament since the 2006 final, a 65-61 Orange victory. Pitt has won six of seven and 14 of the last 18 against Syracuse.
The teams are coming off impressive offensive showings. Where Syracuse made 56.3 percent (27 of 48) of its shots against Seton Hall, including 9 of 15 3-point attempts, Pitt set a Big East record by shooting 71.7 percent at DePaul on Saturday.
“I think they've got all the things you need,” Boeheim said. “They've got great depth, which is important at tournament time. I think their team is really good, and I think they've gotten better all year, every step of the way.”
Syracuse, meanwhile, had lost four of its past five games.
The Orange trailed Seton Hall by nine before tying it at halftime.
Michael Carter-Williams tied a Big East Tournament record with 14 assists. James Southerland scored 20, Brandon Triche 17 and C.J. Fair 16 for the Orange.
“The offensive movement,” Boeheim said, “was the best it's been probably all year.”
Syracuse shot only 37 percent in its first meeting with Pitt, making 3 of 14 treys. The Orange, however, were missing the 6-foot-8 senior forward Southerland, who was 6 of 9 from 3-point range against Seton Hall.
“I know Pitt plays a physical game,” Southerland said. “We have to go out there and be physical and move the ball around and be tough to guard.”
Syracuse missed Southerland most under the boards as Pitt had a 39-24 rebounding edge.
“Having James will help us a lot, too,” Carter-Williams said. “He's going to knock down shots. He's going to make them space out a little bit so we can attack the gaps. He should make a difference in the game.”