Syracuse needed a last-second 40-foot shot to take down Pitt, and they got it.
Tyler Ennis' 13 points was just enough to get by Pitt on Wednesday night, 58-56. The Orange remain unbeaten at 24-0, 11-0 in the ACC. Pitt drops to 20-5 on the season, 8-4 in conference play.
Talib Zanna had one of his best games of the season, a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds, followed by Lamar Patterson's 14. Pitt dominated the boards, 35-24, and capitalized on second-chance points with a 15-3 margin. That counters Syracuse's 19-2 edge in second-chance points the last time the two teams met on January 18.
"I felt we played well enough to win, we did good job on offensive glass," head coach Jamie Dixon said. Down the stretch, they they made shots. I thought we guarded as well as we could. [Ennis] made about a 40-footer. We called timeout to make him catch it deeper. He made it, and he made a tough one."
The game started off looking like an old school Big East type of game with good defense and physical play inside.
Going after the zone as they did in the first meeting, Pitt scored its first two buckets in the paint, the game tied at 4-4, early.
Syracuse came back to take an 8-6 lead--one of only four times they would hold a lead in this game, including the final score--on a transition bucket from Ennis. That's when Pitt answered with a 8-2 run, taking a 14-10 lead with 11:57 left in the half.
It was Josh Newkirk who highlighted the run with a three-pointer from the baseline. Patterson--who was drawing the double-team--looked to just draw and dump. On his second shot of the game, he beat a double-team, taking it in for a layup, giving Pitt a 12-10 lead. Newkirk tacked on a free throw, scoring half of Pitt's points on the 8-2 run.
Syracuse came back to tie it, 14-14, on a pair of free throws from Michael Gbinije.
Pitt didn't let up. Despite a three-pointer from Gbinije, Pitt continued to find ways to make the extra pass, and hit three-pointers. Robinson, working the ball up top, skipped a pass to a wide-open Wright. Robinson saw some sort of open space, giving Wright an open short-range jumper. That made it a 21-17 Pitt lead.
After working some clock--a missed shot at the shot clock expiration, Pitt came down with the offensive rebound. Pitt didn't convert, but they worked nearly a minute off the clock--a key point, considering the low score, and Pitt's five-point lead.
Patterson answered the next possession with a three-pointer, giving Pitt a commanding 24-17 lead.
Syracuse was able to cut in to that deficit. Gbinije, Syracuse's main offensive threat of the first half, was fouled on his way to the basket. Not only did his shot go in, but he converted the free throw to g with it. Syracuse trailed 24-20.
After a stop on defense, Syracuse cut into that lead, as Ennis converted 1-2 free throws. That trimmed the Pitt lead to 25-21.
Cooney was able to get an open look three-pointer, with 34.7 seconds left in the first half. Cooney and Ennis had a combined two points at the one-minute mark. Thanks to Ennis' free throw, and Cooney's three-pointer, Syracuse trimmed the Pitt lead to 25-24.
On Pitt's last possession of the half, Zanna would get fouled underneath. He converted both shots, giving Pitt a 27-24 lead at the half.
Syracuse certainly closed the half strong, but the first half overall belonged to Pitt. The key, a 18-11 edge on the boards. Even though Syracuse had some bad misses, they were still shooting the ball better than Pitt (7-17/41.2% to 10-28/35.7%).
In the first meeting this season, Syracuse edged Pitt in second-chance points, with a 19-2 advantage. In the first half of Wednesday night's game, it was Pitt with a 7-1 advantage in second chance points.
Syracuse kept it close in the early going, but in the two instances it became a one-point game, Pitt answered.
Ennis was fouled on Syracuse's first possession of the half. He converted both shots, making it a 27-26 deficit.
Robinson added his second three of the game, giving Pitt some breathing room with a 30-26 lead. It was Christmas on the next possession, getting an easy bucket, making it a two-point game.
Young answered for Pitt, going inside. He was fouled by Fair, but didn't convert his chance at the three-point play. Pitt led 32-28. Then, they got another big play from Patterson. Patterson attacked the zone by simply driving to the hole. The ball rolled in, giving Pitt a 34-28 lead, barely four minutes in to the second half. Of bigger importance, the fact that Christmas w the one who fouled him--his third of the game.
A few minutes prior to that, Fair picked up his first foul of the game. Jerami Great had two.
Patterson hit another dagger, converting an open three off a pass from Zanna. His second three-pointer of the game made it a 37-28 lead.
Cooney answered for the Orange, keeping them within ange at 37-31. The, a Pitt miss, Cooney drove the lane, cutting Pitt's lead to 37-33. Dixon called timeout at the under-14 mar, to slow things down.
Pitt's nine-point lead became a two-point lead. Two minutes after Christmas went to the bench with his third foul, Zanna picked up his third foul for Pitt. Fair took advantage, driving inside for an easy layup, making it 37-35.
Syracuse answered Patterson's second-three-pointer with a 6-0 run. And while Pitt still led, there was something unsettling about how Syracuse was suddenly converting everything. Credit Cooney for starting the run.
Pitt almost needed another three from Patterson, and that's what they got with 11:48 remaining. He connected again, putting Pitt back up 40-35.
Syrauuse answered, combing back to within two, 40-38.
Pitt then used some good defense to create transition. The first stop lead to a layup from Wright, putting Pitt up 42-38 with 9:30 left. On the next Syracuse possession, Wright came up with a loose ball and fed ahead to Patterson. Patterson's layup didn't go through, but he was fouled in the process. He converted 1-2 chances, putting Pitt up 43-38.
A three-pointer from Cooney tied the game at 45-45, with 6:43 left in the game.
Pitt answered. Zanna, again, went inside. He converted the shot, drawing contact on the play. His free throw gave Pitt a 48-45 lead, approaching the 6:00 mark.
Each team seemed to have an answer for each other. That was until it came to free throws in the final six minutes.
Artis took a hard foul from Grant underneath. The freshman converted both shots at the line, keeping Pitt up 50-45. It seemed any time Syracuse would make it a one-possession game, or even tie it, Pitt always had an answer.
Of course, Syracuse had an answer for keeping it close. They did on the next possession as Fair was fouled from three-point range by Patterson. He converted all three shots, making it a one-possession game again, 50-48.
Zanna was fouled on Pitt's next turn down the court. He converted both shots, giving Pitt a four-point lead, 52-48, now just under five minutes left.
Even in the the final five minutes of the game, there were multiple times where it looked like Pitt made a play to clinch the game, or where it looked like Syracuse was making one last comeback attempt.
Pitt took what looked like a commanding six-point lead, 54-48, as the game went under two minutes. Patterson launched a long three-point attempt. Though it missed the rim, it did land in the hands of Zanna, who finished the play off with an alley oop.
Fair answered for the Orange twice, answering Zanna's basket with a three-pointer. He then hit a long two-pointer, making it a 54-53 Pitt lead, with 51.8 seconds left.
Pitt tried winding the shot clock down, holding for one last, good shot. With the shot clock under ten, Patterson wove his way around Fair, heading to the basket. He tried laying it in. His first shot missed. Zanna came up with the offensive rebound. He missed, as well. Patterson got a second touch, but that one, missed as well, giving Syracuse the ball back for possibly one last possession.
Ennis was fouled underneath. He converted both shots at the line, giving Syracuse its first lead of the second half, 55-54, with 10.8 seconds left.
Pitt had to work hard to get one last shot at the basket. Somehow, the ball got inside to Zanna. Zanna was fouled by Christmas with 4.4 seconds left, sending him to the line again. He converted both free throws, finishing 8-9 for the night.
More importantly, giving Pitt a 56-55 lead over the nation's top-ranked team with just a few seconds left.
Enough time for Syracuse to get one last shot, from long-range.
The hope on the Pitt side, was that they'd force a last-second desperation shot. The hope for Syracuse, was to put up a court-length type of shot. Of what both head coaches planned, neither came to fruition.
Dixon called a timeout, he said, to get the defense set up. Unfortunately, and probably bigger for Syracuse. It allowed Boeheim some extra time to set something up.
It all came down to Ennis, who launched a 40-footer, to lift Syracuse over Pitt, 58-56.
Boeheim said it wasn't his intent to have Ennis laugh the shot, but he's glad it worked out the way it did.
"We wanted to go long to C.J, but it was Tyler," Boeheim said. "That's not luck. He made the shot. He had a purpose and took a good shot."
Dixon defended his use of the timeout.
"The timeout was good," Dixon said. "We wanted them to catch the ball deep. That was the reason for the timeout. I'll take the blame. Someone is going to be the fault. I'll be the fault."
Ennis and Cooney combined for just two points in the first 19 minutes of the game. They combined for 22 over he final 21 minutes of play.
"This game can't stick with us," Dixon added. "We need to get ready for Saturday. We had a good practice yesterday, I thought our best practice in the last three weeks. We need to have a good on tomorrow, and come out with another good one Saturday."