Junior forward Jamel Artis simply enjoys playing against Syracuse, as he scored 18 points, hauled in nine rebounds, and had eight assists in a 72-61 Pitt win.
Pitt opened up ACC play against a familiar old-time Big East rival: the Syracuse Orange.
Syracuse was looking to be more consistent and show that they had improved from last year, in which Pitt had won both contests.
Some things never change, as Pitt defeated Syracuse for the seventh time in eight attempts at home. Led by Jamel Artis’ 18 points, Pitt (11-1, 1-0 ACC) overcame some adversity in the second half and never looked back.
Up 60-59, junior forward Sheldon Jeter exploded for the Panthers, scoring seven points, including two electric dunks, in a 1:30 stretch to squeeze the life out of the Orange (10-4, 0-1 ACC). Junior forward Michael Young scored 15 points and seven rebounds, Jeter added 11, and junior guard Chris Jones chipped in 10 off the bench.
The late 14-2 surge from Pitt overwhelmed Syracuse down the crucial stretch of the game, and Pitt finished with a 22-2 advantage in second chance points. The Orange failed to make a field goal over the final 5:32 of the game.
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For Syracuse, senior guard Trevor Cooney scored 15 points (three of five from three-point line), junior forward Tyler Roberson added 15 points and 7 rebounds, senior forward Michael Gbinije contributed 14 points and 7 assists, and freshman guard Malachi Richardson added 10 points.
Though both teams shot in the lower 40%, Pitt’s bench outscored Syracuse’s bench 26-5. Pitt was clearly a much deeper team. The Panthers dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Orange 44 to 25, including 19 offensive rebounds.
The Panthers came into the game leading the entire country in free throw percentage (80%), and they were 18 for 23 tonight (78.3%).
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim continues to serve a 9-game suspension, so the Orange were led by interim coach Mike Hopkins, who falls to 4-3.
Pitt jumped out to an early 6-1 lead from three-pointers by senior point guard James Robinson and senior guard Sterling Smith. Robinson fell into early foul trouble and sat out for much of the first half. The Panthers led the entire first half until a Gbinije free throw tied it at 30 going into the half.
In the second half, Syracuse gained some momentum on a Roberson layup that made it 43-35 in favor of the Orange five minutes into the half. Mike Young responded with five straight points to get Pitt back into it, and then Artis and Jeter essentially controlled the remainder of the game.
It was a promising sign to see Pitt battle through some shooting adversity and not give up. I am enjoying the faster-paced offense, as Pitt came into the game averaging 86 points each contest. They fell below that mark tonight, as the zone gave them fits at times, but several Panthers knocked down key baskets at crucial time points of the game.
Dec 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers forward Jamel Artis (R) handles the ball as Syracuse Orange guard
(1) defends during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Pitt struggled shooting the ball at times tonight, but I believe the Panthers’ depth wore down the Orange, and Jeter provided a significant lift down the final stretch of the game. Artis has thrived against Syracuse in the past, and he played his best game of the season thus far.
Syracuse is now 2-10 all-time at the Peterson Events Center, and despite it being Holiday Break, the Oakland Zoo was loud and the fan support helped over the duration of the game.
Tonight’s game was Pitt’s best win of the season thus far, and Pitt will step away from ACC action with a contest against Maryland Eastern Shore Saturday at home.