Pitt and Syracuse battled back and forth--a game that included a 19-0 run to start for Pitt that was answered by a 17-0 run for Syracuse. Pitt was able to pull away with a late run in the second half, to defeat Syracuse convincingly, 74-66 in front of a record crowd of 12,925 at the Petersen Events Center.
Nasir Robinson led Pitt with a season-high, and game-high 21 points. He led four Panthers in double-figures, a group that included Brad Wanamaker with 15 points, Gilbert Brown with 12 points and Ashton Gibbs with 11.
Pitt never trailed the entire game despite four Syracuse players in double-figures, led by C.J. Fair coming off the bench with 16, followed by Scoop Jardine with 12, Brandon Triche with 11 and Rick Jackson with 10. Pitt improves to 18-1 on the season, and 6-0 in Big East. The 6-0 conference record is the first time in school history the Panthers have started a Big East season with six consecutive wins. Syracuse is also at 18-1, 5-1 in the Big East; the first loss of the season for the Orange.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said Robinson did a good job finishing the shots that were created for him.
"It's usually a guy that's giving (Robinson) the ball, so it's usually someone else's passing," Dixon said. "Nasir waits for the shots and lets us get him shots. He's really effective. He did that for the most part tonight."
After the game, while it was those four players for Pitt who did the damage, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim pointed to Pitt's ability to take out the middle. Though Gary McGhee only scored two points, he did have a game-high 13 rebounds, including 11 of which were defensive. On the offensive side, it was Robinson attacking that middle early. Boeheim said Pitt's plan to attack to the middle ended up being the difference-maker.
"Our centers got off to a horrendous start," Boeheim said after the game. "The seven points they got right off the bat was attacking the center position. Our guys have a lot to learn, and they were not ready tonight. (Pitt) got us in a big hole right away."
A 19-0 hole, to be exact. Robinson scored Pitt's first nine points, including those first seven that Boeheim talked about. Twice during that 19-0 opening, Boeheim had to call timeout. After Robinson scored off a feed from McGhee, Pitt was up 5-0 not even two minutes in. He called another after Wanamaker slashed through for a layup off the glass, putting Pitt up 13-0, still not even five minutes in.
"It's probably the first time in my career we got off to a start like that," Wanamaker said. "It was great because we got the fans into it. Our adrenaline was pumping."
Then, when it wasn't one of Pitt's starters doing the damage, it was a guy like Talib Zanna coming up with a big play. Zanna came up with a steal near half court, then drove it all the way to finish with a dunk, extending the opening lead to 17-0.
During the opening stretch of 19-0 in favor of Pitt, which lasted through the first eight minutes of the game, Syracuse was 0-for-10 from the field, and had turned the ball over twice. Jardine got the Orange their first bucket on a three-pointer, which then gave Syracuse a spark.
"Syracuse is a great team, they stuck to it," Wanamaker said of Syracuse's comeback. "They're a great team. They made their run. That's what basketball is, a game of runs. We made our first run, they made theirs."
Pitt went without a field goal for the next seven minutes. Though the Orange pulled within two points at 19-17, Brown was there for the three-pointer, giving Pitt some breathing room again, up 22-17 with just over five minutes left in the half. Gibbs added an NBA three-pointer to put Pitt up 26-17. Syracuse would cut it to a one-point deficit with 30 seconds left in the half, thanks to a three-pointer from James Southerland. Gibbs answered with another three right before halftime, giving Pitt a 31-27 lead at the break.
Syracuse kept it close in the second half, but could only get it as close as a one-point deficit. Pitt went back up by four, at 35-31. That was answered by another three-pointer from Jardine--who finished the game with four three-pointers. Pitt kept regaining the three-point lead, but every time they did, Syracuse answered with a three. Southerland tied the game at 41-41 with a three-pointer with 13:45 left in the game. Though they hadn't taken the lead, this was the closest they had come. The cause this time, was Pitt slipping into a bit of discomfort with Syracuse's zone. They had some success with it early on, but Syracuse made some adjustments, which helped bring them back.
"I'm really excited the way we adjusted against the zone," Dixon said. "We made some adjustments. They made some adjustments as well, and then found a way to finish it off."
Finish it off indeed. With the ball game tied, it was another bench player coming up with a big play--this time Travon Woodall hit a long-range three-pointer, to put Pitt up 44-41. Even though Syracuse answered, Woodall's three-pointer set up Pitt's next run.
As Syracuse tried to come out with the press--which they succeeded with on a couple of occasions--Pitt found out the best way to beat this press was with the fast break. Brown finished one off with a dunk, thanks to a pass from Woodall. The break was created by a blocked shot from Zanna, who came up with a big first half play in transition. Syracuse hit a couple free throws on its next trip down the court. Wanamaker answered that with his first three-pointer of the game, giving Pitt a 49-44 lead--its biggest lead of the second half. After a missed layup by Jackson, Robinson pulled down the rebound for Pitt and pushed the ball up to Wanamaker. Wanamaker gave the ball back to Robinson on the other end, who finished off with another easy layup. Pitt was up 51-44 with 11:18 left. Boeheim had to call a timeout.
After this run, Syracuse hung around for a little bit, but Pitt tightened its defense up over the next five and a half minutes. Syracuse shot just 2-of-8 over that span, as Pitt was able to build a 64-53 lead--it's first double-digit lead since a 19-9 lead, halfway through the first half.
Despite hitting a double-digit lead, Pitt came up with a couple more big plays on defense in the last five minutes to nail down the win. One came from Brown, who went up to block a dunk attempt from Dion Waiters.
"I kind of seen it in his eyes," Brown said, defending Waiters on the play. "I knew what he was going to do, so I need to meet him up at the rim. I knew I was going to take care of business."