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Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on Pitt: Winning with freshmen in ACC 'impossible'

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018, 6:39 p.m.
Pitt's Marcus Carr scores between Syracuse's Tyus Battle and Howard Washington in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Marcus Carr scores between Syracuse's Tyus Battle and Howard Washington in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Terrell Brown fights for a loose ball with Syracuse's Oshae Brissett in the second half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Terrell Brown fights for a loose ball with Syracuse's Oshae Brissett in the second half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, at Petersen Events Center.
Syracuse's Marek Dolezaj blocks the shot of Terrell Brown  in the second half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Syracuse's Marek Dolezaj blocks the shot of Terrell Brown in the second half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Syracuse's Bourama Sidbe and Tyus Battle defend on Pitt's Shamiel Stevenson in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Syracuse's Bourama Sidbe and Tyus Battle defend on Pitt's Shamiel Stevenson in the first half Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 at Petersen Events Center.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's reaction to Pitt's record-setting ninth consecutive ACC loss stopped short of sympathy.

It sounded more like a warning.

“You know, you cannot win with just freshmen in this league,” Boeheim said Saturday after his team completed only its second two-game sweep of Pitt since 2002. “It's impossible.”

But when coach Kevin Stallings decided it was prudent to gut his roster — before losing his two best remaining players to transfer (Cam Johnson) and season-ending injury (Ryan Luther) — his alternatives became less than limited. They barely exist.

A look at Pitt's roster reveals the truth. Eight players have logged an average of between 13.9-29.1 minutes per game. They are, clearly, the most important members of the team. Five of those are freshmen.

Two of the others are Jared Wilson-Frame and Kene Chukwuka, who never played above the junior-college level before this season, and senior guard Jonathan Milligan, whose minutes have dwindled to less than 10 per game in ACC play.

To point guard Marcus Carr, who leads the team at 29.1 minutes per game, the freshman designation hasn't meant much. Even less now that he's been toughened by playing in all 22 games, with 19 starts.

“I don't really feel like a freshman,” he said after he set a Pitt freshman record with 12 assists against Syracuse. “I knew I had a big weight on my shoulders and had a lot to carry.

“I also knew I didn't have time to feel sorry for myself and make mistakes that other (young) guys do. I'm trying to help my team win and help my guys get better.”

That's a lot of pressure on an 18-year-old who must contend with the ACC's impressive list of guards, including four he's already faced (Duke's Trevon Duval, Louisville's Quentin Snider, Virginia Tech's Justin Robinson and Syracuse's Frank Howard) and two yet to come (Wake Forest's Bryant Crawford and Notre Dame's Matt Farrell). And don't forget West Virginia's Jevon Carter, who had 19 points and nine assists against Carr and Pitt on Dec. 9.

Six of those seven guards are juniors or seniors, and the only freshman, Duval, is projected as an NBA first-round pick.

“We have the same problem, and it shows up,” said Boeheim, who used a seven-man rotation Saturday against Pitt, including four freshmen. “But we have a couple of veteran players.”

That's the difference between Pitt and Syracuse. Sophomore Tyus Battle and Howard, a junior, are Syracuse's leading scorers while 7-foot-2 junior center Paschal Chukwu was among the ACC's top 10 rebounders coming into the game.

Which makes the closer margins last week a sign of progress for Pitt.

“They had N.C. State really just about beat the other day, and N.C. State won against North Carolina (on Saturday),” Boeheim said.

“So, they are playing as hard as they can. They are doing what they can do to win, but they just have too many young players out there.”

NOTES: Wilson-Frame missed his first free throw Saturday in an ACC game in 24 attempts. … For the season, he's 49 for 60 (81.6 percent). … Freshman Shamiel Stevenson played a season-low eight minutes against Syracuse after showing up to practice Friday with his eyes swollen shut by an allergy, Stallings said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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