The Syracuse Orange struggle down the stretch, losing at rival Pittsburgh in ACC opener

Syracuse's ACC opener didn't go as planned:

Coming into Wednesday's game against PittsburghSyracuse knew they would need to play arguably their best game of the season to escape with a victory.

That didn't happen.

In a back-and-forth game at the Petersen Events Center, the Panthers used a late 9-0 run to defeat the Orange, 72-61. This was SU's first loss in their conference opener since 2007.

First half:

Syracuse played well in the first half, despite being out-rebounded 25-13. Pittsburgh's eleven offensive rebounds led to fourteen second-chance points. The Orange went 7-for-14 from the free throw line in the first half.

Trevor Cooney was SU's first half spark, scoring nine points (3-for-4 from 3-point range) and had five rebounds. Michael Gbinije had eight first half points, but also missed five free throws. The missed free throws are surprising and baffling, especially for a guy of Gbinije's talent. He's been SU's most consistent scorer and shooting this season, but struggles immensely from the charity stripe. 

Malachi Richardson scored five points and proved his offensive game is more than one dimensional. Richardson repeatedly got into the lane and proved to be much more aggressive from the opening tip. In prior games, we've seen Richardson settle for contested 3-point attempts. 

Dajuan Coleman picked up two early fouls in the second half, but still provided solid depth for the Orange inside the zone. His effort and assertiveness won't show up on the stat sheet, but he was an important role in SU's first half defensive success. 

Despite getting manhandled on the glass and struggling from the line, Syracuse and Pittsburgh were tied at 30 heading into the break. 

Second half:

The second half couldn't have started any better for the Orange. Malachi Richardson got the Orange on the board early, giving SU a 32-30 lead just seconds into the half. A few possessions later, Trevor Cooney hit a 3-pointer and the Orange looked in control, leading 37-32. 

Dajuan Coleman, who didn't necessarily play great but was a factor on the defensive end of the court, fouled out with 6:30 remaining in the game. Syracuse was forced to go smaller inside with Tyler Lydon against Pitt's big forwards, which killed the Orange. Pitt finished the game +18 on the glass, including nineteen offensive rebounds. 

Pittsburgh finished the game with 22 second-chance points, which Syracuse interim head coach Mike Hopkins called the difference maker. 

All in all, Gbinije struggled from the floor again tonight, scoring fourteen points on 4-of-12 shooting, 5-of-10 from the free throw line. He also added seven assists. 

Tyler Roberson was 'plugged in' tonight, according to coach Hopkins. He had a team-high fifteen points and seven rebounds. 

Freshman Tyler Lydon struggled tonight, finishing with five points, four rebounds and three assists on 1-of-3 shooting. Lydon's lack of size showed down low against the Panthers' forwards. 

Malachi Richardson finished with ten points for the Orange. 

Jamel Artis led the Panthers with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Michael Young scored fifteen points and grabbed seven boards. 

Free throws and rebounding will remain a concern all season. If Syracuse did either better tonight, they may be walking out of 'The Pete' victorious. But instead, they lost their fourth game of the season.

Syracuse (10-4, 0-1) returns to the court on Saturday at No. 13 Miami (10-1, 0-0). Tip is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3. 

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