The Orange got off to a slow start shooting just 1-13 from the field thru the first 10 minutes of the opening period and trailed by as many as six. They opened up a four point lead with 4:14 to play off two FT’s by Rakeem Christmas. Rak finished with 20 points and 12 boards. But the Panthers finished the half on a 14-4 run including three straight 3-pointers in the last 1:16. Two of which were by reserve Chris Jones who was one of three Panthers in double figures on the afternoon.
”The first half was a really bad offensive performance,” Coach Boeheim said. “It put us in a bad spot.”
It looked as if a comeback was in the making late in the second half. Trailing by nine with 2:35 to play Syracuse went on a 9-1 run to cut the Pitt lead to 61-60 with just 1:00 to play. But a costly and controversial offensive foul on Rakeem Christmas and subsequent foul by B.J. Johnson on the next possession sent James Robinson to the line. He sunk both FT’s and that was enough for the Panthers.
The two teams came into the game pretty evenly matched in many statistical categories and both teams were coming off signature wins. The Orange had just pulled off a huge win over ranked Louisville last Wednesday and the Panthers defeated North Carolina by seven last Saturday.
Syracuse struggled mightily from the floor shooting just 21-49 on the game. They were just 15-22 from the free throw line. The Orange couldn’t rebound from a 28% shooting performance in the first half even though it shot 58% in the second period.
With Pitt “on the bubble” of making the NCAA Tournament, today’s victory was a necessity to keep their postseason hopes alive. The win evens up their conference record to 7-7 as their four remaining games are against teams in the bottom of the ACC standings.
WHAT WE LIKED: Despite being double and triple teamed all afternoon Rakeem Christmas had another impressive game for the Orange. The senior had 20 points on 8-14 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds. It was his second straight game with 20 plus points. After a subpar performance against Khalil Okafor and Duke, Rak had 29 points against Louisville.
WHAT WE DIDN'T LIKE: Trevor Cooney struggled shooting for the second straight game. Coming off a 1-10 performance from the field in the upset win over Louisville the Orange sharpshooter had zero points and was 0-5 from the field including 0-4 from three in today’s loss to Pitt.
KEY MOMENT: With just under three minutes to play and the Orange still within striking distance trailing 57-51 Chris Jones hit his fifth three of the afternoon to extend the Panthers lead to nine and seal the victory for Pitt. His five three pointers made and 19 points both tied a season high for the New Jersey native.
“We shot it well,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I’m pretty happy with how we played.”
STATS OF THE DAY: Outside of B.J. Johnson’s three three pointers in the second half the Orange shot just 1-8 from long range including 0-6 from three in the first half. Johnson finished with 11 points and was 3-4 from three. Coming into the game he had shot just 10-44 from three on the season. Pittsburgh didn’t go to the line much, but made 7-8 from the stripe and the Panthers had 21 assists as a team on the afternoon.
”Ronny and B.J. finally made shots, that’s why we were in the game,” Boeheim said. “That was big for us.”
NOTES: At halftime of this afternoon’s game the Orange honored the legacy of Louie and Bouie. Roosevelt Bouie and Louis Orr’s jerseys were both raised up to the rafters to forever live in Syracuse lore. Both were 1,000 point scorers for the Orange and both went on to have careers in the NBA. It brings the SU number of retired jerseys up to 12.
UP NEXT: The Orange will travel to South Bend, Indiana for a primetime matchup with the #10 Fighting Irish from the Joyce Center. The game will be aired on the ACC Network at 8p.m.
Jim Boeheim Post Game: