No. 5 Pitt sullies Syracuse's record
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knew it was only a matter of time. So did guard Brad Wanamaker and just about everyone in the record-setting crowd at Petersen Events Center.
Heck, even Ben Roethlisberger, who was in attendance and knows something about comebacks, figured No. 3-ranked Syracuse wouldn't go away quietly when Pitt jumped to a 19-0 lead over the undefeated Orange on Monday night.
"You know it's not going to continue," Dixon said. "I don't think anybody thought we were going to pull away for 40 minutes and shut them down completely."
After one of strangest 20 minutes in the history of Big East basketball - Pitt's game-opening run followed by Syracuse's 17-0 spurt - the Panthers had the last run on the way to a 74-66 victory.
"That's one thing about this team," Pitt senior forward Gilbert Brown said. "Through adversity and hard times, we stay together and we push through."
The Panthers (18-1, 6-0 Big East), who improved to 9-0 against top-five teams at the Pete, is off to its best start in Big East history and takes over sole possession of first place in the conference.
Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) entered the game as one of only our remaining undefeated teams in Division I but never took the lead after Pitt's remarkable run to open the game.
Pitt has won eight in a row since its 83-76 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 11.
"Since the Tennessee game, we've really been on a mission to prove what kind of a team we are and what we are capable of," Brown said.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called this "as good of a Pitt team as I've seen."
"I just think they're a good overall team, top to bottom," he said. "They shoot it better. They're still tough defensively and rebounding the basketball."
Nasir Robinson scored the first nine points of the game and finished with a season-high 21 on 8 for 12 shooting. Wanamaker added 15 points, six assists and five rebounds for Pitt, which has won five in a row and 13 of its past 16 against Syracuse.
Pitt shot 48.2 percent from the field against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone -- the best this season against the Orange, who are No. 7 in the nation in field goal percentage defense.
Rick Jackson had 10 points and 11 rebounds for Syracuse. C.J. Fair, one of the players filling in for Syracuse's injured leading scorer, Kris Joseph, had 16 points. Scoop Jardine added 12.
After a wild first half in which Pitt saw its 19-0 lead whittled to 31-27 at halftime. Syracuse tied the score at 41 on James Southerland's 3-point play with 13 minutes left in the game.
But Travon Woodall hit a 3-pointer - his only basket of the game - to make it 44-41. With Pitt leading, 44-43, Syracuse had a chance to take the lead. But Talib Zanna blocked a layup attempt by Dion Waiters. The block turned into a Brown dunk on the other end to start a 9-1 run.
Pitt led by at least four points the rest of the way to improve to 11-2 against top-five teams under Dixon.
"That play lit a match under us," Brown said of Zanna's block. "It really changed the momentum of the game."
Pitt appeared to take control in the first half, hitting five of its first six shots. When Zanna and Wanamaker followed with consecutive dunks, Pitt led, 19-0, forcing Boeheim to take his second timeout during the run.
"It was great," Wanamaker said. "We had our fans into it. Our adrenaline was pumping. Syracuse is a great team and they made their run. But we stuck to it and won the game."
Said Robinson, who scored the first nine points of the run, "I was just relaxed. My teammates found me, and I just made the plays."
But Pitt went cold, going 0 for 6 from the field with three turnovers over the next 6:22. Syracuse went 7 for 8 from the field during its 17-0 run, led by Fair's six points. With six minutes to play in the first half, Pitt's runaway lead was cut to 19-17.
"Obviously we got off to a horrible start and Pitt got off to a great start," Boeheim said.
Gibbs' 3-pointer with 4 seconds to play gave Pitt its four-point halftime lead.
The first half left ESPN analyst Dick Vitale nearly speechless; he said at halftime in the media break room that he'd never seen anything like it in 30 years of covering college basketball.
Syracuse could never fully overcome the early 19-0 deficit.
"That's a lot to come back," Boeheim said. "We used a lot of energy to come back and didn't have much left."