Buzzer-beating 3-pointer lifts No. 1 Syracuse over No. 25 Pitt
Jim Boeheim isn't the type of coach who always says that he believed the last-second shot was going in, so the Syracuse coach was primed for pessimism with 4.4 seconds remaining.
Trailing Pitt by one with its No. 1 national ranking and undefeated season hanging in the balance, the Orange designed a play to throw a deep inbounds pass to senior forward C.J. Fair for its final shot.
When that play wasn't open, Syracuse opted for the lower-percentage play: The Orange gave it to Tyler Ennis and allowed the freshman point guard to work his magic once more.
Ennis, who had already delivered one dagger to the Panthers this season, handed them another heartbreaker by beating a double team to loft a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer for a 58-56 victory Wednesday night in an ACC contest before 12,935 at Petersen Events Center.
“That's not luck,” Boeheim said. “I don't think those shots are going to go in. Really. I never do. When he shot it, the way he released it, I said, ‘That's going in.' He's done that all year at the end of games.”
The shot stunned the second-largest crowd in Pete history, behind only the Duke game Jan. 27 (12,944). It left the Oakland Zoo student section silent, then stunned when officials reviewed the shot and gave approval of the play that improved Syracuse to 24-0 overall, 11-0 in the ACC.
“The shot that Ennis hit was a terrific shot,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said, noting that Ennis caught the pass between the baseline and free-throw line and had to dribble past guards Josh Newkirk and Cameron Wright. “I thought we guarded it as well as you can guard it and made him catch it as deep as you can catch it, and he hit a 40-footer.
“He made the shot, and he made a tough one.”
It marked the first time Pitt (20-5, 8-4) lost to a top-five opponent at the Pete.
The Panthers were 9-0 against top-five teams since the arena opened in 2002, including a 70-60 victory over No. 1 Connecticut in March 2009. Pitt also was 6-1 against Syracuse at the Pete, winning the previous five meetings.
Of course, none of those games involved the 6-foot-2 Ennis of Brampton, Ontario. He was the hero for Syracuse against Pitt on Jan. 18 at Carrier Dome, making two layups and sinking two free throws in the final 1:48 of a 59-54 victory.
“I've been in this situation before, (but) obviously not at this level,” said Ennis, who noted that he practiced the same shot at halftime and missed. “I got it the second time around.”
This one came just moments after Pitt fifth-year senior Talib Zanna, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds (seven offensive) hit two free throws to give the Panthers a 56-55 lead with 4.4 seconds left after they had blown a six-point lead in the final two minutes.
The Orange won despite Pitt dominating the boards, gaining an 18-11 advantage with nine offensive rebounds in the first half and finishing with a 35-24 edge for the game, with 16 offensive boards.
Pitt built a 24-17 lead and took a 27-24 edge into halftime. Lamar Patterson, who scored 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting, sparked an early second-half run.
He set up a tic-tac-toe play with a pass to Zanna, who fed Mike Young for a layup that drew a foul. When Young missed the free throw, Patterson poked it out to Cameron Wright to keep it in Pitt's possession. Patterson then drove into the lane and scored on a floater for a 34-28 lead at 16:31.
Patterson added a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 37-28 lead, Pitt's biggest of the game. The Orange slowly came back, tying it at 45-45 on Trevor Cooney's third 3-pointer at 6:53.
Syracuse couldn't regain the lead. Zanna converted a three-point play, and Jamel Artis sank two free throws for a 50-45 edge. With the shot clock winding down, Zanna made a big play. Patterson launched a 3-pointer from deep on the right wing that sailed past the rim, but Zanna was there to catch it and lay it in for a 54-48 lead with 1:59 left.
But the Panthers' offense sputtered over the next three possessions, and Fair answered by scoring five of his 14 points. He hit a 3-pointer to make it 54-51, and after James Robinson's 3-point attempt rimmed out, Fair hit a baseline jumper to cut it to 54-53 with 51.8 seconds remaining.
After Pitt missed three times from point-blank range, Ennis took off on a breakaway but was fouled by Robinson. Ennis hit both free throws to give Syracuse a 55-54 lead, its first since leading 8-6 at the 14:01 mark of the first half.
“We made plays. We made good plays,” Boeheim said. “We've made good plays all year. We've never had to make the last play, but tonight we did.”
First, Pitt worked it around for Patterson, who drove left but dished a bounce pass to Zanna, who was fouled by Rakeem Christmas. Zanna sank both shots to give Pitt a 56-55 lead.
That set up Ennis' heroics.
“There was nothing we could do about it,” Patterson said. “It was to half court almost. If you hit a shot like that, it's meant for you to win it. When the No. 1 team has to hit a shot like that, you did a good job.”