After 13 straight victories to open the season helped it earn a No. 5 national ranking, Syracuse was throttled at home by Pittsburgh, 82-72, in a Big East Conference matchup Saturday afternoon in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
The Panthers (12-2, 2-0) should be ranked for the first time this season after a seventh straight regular-season victory against the Orange (13-1, 1-1) and fourth in a row at Syracuse's home Dome. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon moved past Bob Timmons into second place all-time with 175 coaching victories, and the Panthers have won five of their last six games against top-five teams.
"We're a team that's gotten much better defensively,'' Coach Dixon said. "That's our calling card. (Syracuse is) as good as anybody in the country. Maybe we just caught them on the right day.''
Pitt trailed early and was down by as many as 10 points, 20-10, with 7:49 remaining in the first half. However, the Panthers started to come back with some sharp outside shooting and a stifling defense to trail by just three, 30-27, at halftime with sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs and senior guard Jermaine Dixon combining for 23 points.
Gibbs finished with 24 points, including six from 3-point range, while Dixon added 21 for Pitt. The Panthers canned 10-for-24 from 3-point range (44.2 percent) and also converted 26 free throws. But they missed 10 free throws overall, including several one-and-one chances. But they were 24-for-32 from the line in the second half (75 percent) to seal the win.
"We did a good job of sharing the ball and finding open teammates in the right spots,'' Gibbs said. "I was just taking what they gave me. We played as a team. We played tough defense, and we rebounded the ball towards the end of the game. That's what we needed. Coaches stressed that in pre-game.''
Syracuse, which averaged nearly 90 points per game in 13 straight season-opening victories, was 15-for-23 from the free-throw line. So, Pitt took 13 more shots from there and made 11 more, which was a big difference, as the Orange was in foul trouble throughout the second half.
The Panthers, the Big East's top defensive team at 55.9 points per game, held the Conference's top-scoring team 15 points below its average. Syracuse was 28-for-66 (42.4 percent) from the field, including 1-for-13 (7.7) from 3-point range. The Orange missed all seven 3-point attempts in the second half.
Syracuse came into the game hitting 54.7 percent from the field, while Pitt had not scored more than 74 points in a game this season. The Orange was whistled for 19 personal fouls in the 20-minute second half, as the Panthers pounded Syracuse Jim Boeheim's famed two-three zone.
Pitt erased the halftime deficit with a 16-4 run to open the second half, as Bradley Wanamaker scored six points and Dixon canned two 3-pointers. The Orange missed three shots and committed three fouls in the stretch, as Pitt pulled ahead 43-34 less than five minutes into the second half.
Syracuse pressed the Panthers incessantly to get back in the game and got within two, 46-44, in just a few minutes. But Pitt played so well defensively and shot well enough from the line, so Syracuse couldn't get any closer.
A 15-5 run gave the Panthers a 13-point margin, 60-47, with 8:33 to play. Pitt was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line during the stretch. The Panthers led by as many as 15, 78-63, with 1:42 left, but the Orange tallied nine of the game's final 13 points to produce the final score.
"They play very good man-to-man defense,'' Syracuse's Brandon Triche said. "We tried to go inside, and it was working at first. But then they started playing a little bit smarter and taking a few charges, which made us play a little more timid. They played straight up and didn't pressure too much.
"But they made sure that they stayed in front of us. It hasn't really been something that I've been used to (this season). We try and match up well every game, but they were playing so tough and so hard that I think we weren't ready for it. We will definitely be ready for it in the next couple games.''
Bradley Wanamaker added 12 points and a game-high six assists for Pitt, and he was 10-for-14 from the free-throw line. But he made just one field goal. Freshman Dante Taylor chipped in with 10 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes, while Gibbs had eight boards and Dixon five steals for the Panthers.
Wesley Johnson led Syracuse with 19 points, while Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph tallied 15 and 10 points, respectively. Joseph also had nine rebounds.
Pitt visits Cincinnati Monday, while Syracuse plays host to Memphis Wednesday.
Pitt 82, Syracuse 72
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