The newly-ranked Pitt men’s basketball team traveled to the Carrier Dome in upstate New York to face off against unbeaten No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday afternoon.
Jamie Dixon’s Panthers were 10-4 against Jim Boeheim’s Orange, but it was Syracuse (18-0, 5-0 ACC) who knocked off Pitt 59-54 in an instant classic in front of a crowd of 30,000-plus and a national TV audience.
It was the Panthers’ second game without sixth man and fourth-leading scorer Durand Johnson, who suffered a torn ACL against Wake Forest last week. Pitt (16-2, 4-1 ACC) could have used him in the final minutes of this one.
The Panthers overcame a nine-point second half deficit, and led 52-51 with under two minutes remaining in the game. But Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis hit a field goal with 1:50 remaining to give Syracuse a 53-52 lead. Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Cameron Wright missed back-to-back jumpers, followed by another Ennis layup to give Syracuse a 3-point advantage.
Free throws down the stretch were important, as Pitt shot 54.2 percent from the free throw line (13 for 24), and that may have been the deciding factor of the game.
Pitt put on another strong rebounding display, as they out-boarded the Orange 35-24. Pitt was led by senior guard Patterson, who finished with a game-high 18 points, and senior center Talib Zanna recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
For Syracuse, true freshman guard Ennis finished with 16 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Three others scored in double figures, including senior forward C.J. Fair who scored 13 points and six rebounds.
In the first half, the Pitt Panthers opened the game with a 7-4 lead and battled back and forth with Syracuse, trailing 25-21 at the half. Neither team led by more than four points before intermission.
Though the Panthers’ game plan of quick passing and cutting helped to dissect the Orange’s 2-3 zone, Pitt uncharacteristically had seven turnovers and a handful of missed layups, compared to six turnovers by Syracuse.
Junior forward Wright had seven points at the half to lead Pitt, whereas senior Fair led the Orange with eight points, four rebounds, and three blocks. Pitt’s leading scorer Patterson was held to four points in the opening 20 minutes.
Syracuse appeared to be pulling away in the second half, but Patterson hit three consecutive 3-pointers to keep Pitt in the game.
No. 22 Pitt will host Clemson on Tuesday night, and Syracuse will travel to Miami on Saturday.