Panthers insider: Late losses hurting Pitt's postseason resume
Jim Boeheim pointed to “end-game situations” as the secret to Syracuse's success this season.
The Orange (24-0, 11-0 ACC) are undefeated, but have won eight games by single digits, four by five points or less and one by two in overtime.
“We probably should be about 20-4 or 19-5, but in the last three or four minutes we've been just about perfect in all those situations,” Boeheim said. “We've been down ... six or seven times this year, and we've been able to finish games.”
Boeheim pointed out that finishing with a flourish is the difference between being ranked No. 1 and No. 25.
Or, in other words, the difference between Syracuse and Pitt.
The Panthers are 20-5 (8-4 ACC), with their lone double-digit loss coming to Duke, 80-65, on Jan. 27.
Pitt's other four defeats are by a combined 11 points.
Coach Jamie Dixon lamented the defensive letdown of allowing Syracuse to outscore the Panthers, 10-2, in the final 1:40.
Syracuse freshman guard Tyler Ennis ended the game with a running 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 58-56 victory.
“There is always going to be room for improvement,” Dixon said. “They definitely had some guys who hit shots, but we need to find a way to defend better and not give up as many of those shots.”
It's a troubling trend for Pitt, which has lost three games in the final five seconds and another in the final minute. Despite defensive letdowns, the offense came up short:
•Pitt was 1 of 3 from the field (0 for 2 on 3-pointers) and 3 of 8 on free throws in the final 4:10 of a 44-43 loss to Cincinnati before Titus Rubles scored with 4.2 seconds left.
•Pitt was 0 for 6 from the field (three 3s) and 1 for 3 on free throws in blowing a three-point lead in the final 4:41 at Syracuse, a 59-54 loss Jan. 18.
•The Panthers were 0 for 5 from the field (one 3) and 1 of 2 on free throws before Malcolm Brogdon's 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left lifted Virginia to a 48-45 victory Feb. 2.
•And the Panthers were 1 for 7 (four 3s) from the field but 2 for 2 on free throws against Syracuse on Wednesday.
The losses have prevented Pitt from getting a signature win on its resume, which lacks a victory over a nationally ranked team and includes one win over a team with a top-50 RPI (Stanford).
It could cost the Panthers come tourney time, as Syracuse was their last ranked regular-season opponent. Bracketologists Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports both have Pitt a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
If Pitt goes 4-2 in its final six, it will match last season's 24-7 record.
“The season isn't over,” senior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “We have more games ahead of us.”
The Panthers have to find a way to put the last-gasp losses behind them.