The No. 25 Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team looked for revenge against the No. 1 and unbeaten Syracuse Orange at the Pete on Wednesday night.
They nearly had it, but the hearts of all Pitt fans were broken by a running 3-pointer inside of half court by freshman guard Tyler Ennis as time expired, giving the Orange a devastating 58-56 win.
Pitt had been 9-0 at the Pete against Top 5 opponents until Wednesday. Syracuse (24-0, 11-0 ACC) remains perfect, even though Pitt led for approximately 35 minutes of the game.
Jamie Dixon’s Panthers (20-5, 8-4 ACC) fall to 10-5 all-time against Jim Boeheim’s Orange. Though Pitt had been outrebounded its previous four games, the Panthers had a 35-24 advantage in a very gritty, defensive battle.
Senior center Talib Zanna had a game-high 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Panthers. He made two free throws to give Pitt the lead with just under five seconds left in the game. Following a Panthers timeout, Syracuse inbounded the ball and got it to Ennis for his desperation shot that rattled in at the buzzer.
Senior guard Lamar Patterson, playing with an injured hand, scored 14 points, four rebounds and four assists. Zanna and Patterson scored 30 of Pitt’s 56 points.
For Syracuse, senior forward C.J. Fair scored 14 points and four rebounds, and Ennis added 13 points and five assists. Ennis was the reason Syracuse won its first meeting against Pitt, and his game-winning shot was the deciding factor in this one.
Ennis has quickly become a thorn in Pitt’s side, and he simply broke my heart, along with all of my fellow Pitt fans.
This would have been a huge win and an NCAA tournament resume-booster for the Panthers. Pitt has now lost five games to teams in the Top 25. Four of their five losses are by five or fewer points. No. 1 Syracuse beat Pitt by five and two, while No. 7 Cincinnati beat Pitt by one and No. 17 Virginia edged the Panthers with another game-winning 3-pointer.
This one will sting for awhile.
Pitt slowed the tempo of the game, and played very strong defensively. Pitt has had trouble scoring, so Dixon’s defensive game plan with an emphasis on rebounding was successful. The Orange employed just six players, as senior Baye-Moussa Keita was injured.
In the first half, Pitt led by as many as five points (24-19 with 3:15 remaining in the half). No Syracuse starters had more than four points in the first half. Pitt led 27-24 going into the break.
With 15:03 left in the second half, Patterson drained a deep 3 to give Pitt a 37-28 lead. Cooney, Ennis and Fair each scored to tighten the game to 37-33.
With 2:02 remaining, Zanna tipped in a missed Patterson shot to give Pitt a 54-48 lead. Fair immediately responded by hitting a 3-pointer, followed by another jumper with 52 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 54-53.
Patterson missed a layup and a tip shot, and then James Robinson fouled Ennis with 10 seconds left. Ennis hit both free throws to give the Orange a 55-54 lead.
Rakeem Christmas then fouled Zanna with 4.4 seconds remaining, and Zanna hit both free throws to give the lead back to Pitt at 56-55.
No. 25 Pitt will travel to North Carolina on Saturday, while No. 1 Syracuse will host NC State next.
Brett is a staff writer for City of Champions. Follow himon Twitter.