After multiple clock malfunctions in the first minute-or-so in the game, freshman Malachi Richardson got the Orange on the board with a layup. Syracuse led by as many as ten points in the first half, but a 13-1 run by the Panthers late in the first half put them out in front, 31-27.
Cameron Johnson scored 12 first-half points, which was tied with Michael Gbinije for a game-high. Leading up to Wednesday's matchup, Syracuse was worried about Jamel Artis, James Robinson and Michael Young, with Johnson as an after thought.
Johnson finished with a career-high 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting.
"Obviously, we didn't have him last game," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "Sometimes you appreciate a guy even more when he's out. Obviously, he was big for us. The zone was a big part of that. He's been playing more and more because of his defense and rebounding. That's what's been good for us."
Senior guard Trevor Cooney started off hot, scoring six quick points off of two corner 3-pointers. Malachi Richardson, on the other hand, got off to a cold start, going 1-of-5 in the first half, but he doesn't let that affect his second half mindset.
"I don't worry about that," he said after the game. "I just go out and play. Thinking about the first half doesn't do anything when you're in the second half."
Pitt led the Orange, 31-29, at halftime.
With the Orange trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half, they used a 14-2 run from the 4:00-1:04, which tied the game at 68.
After a Tyler Roberson steal, which led to a Michael Gbinije bucket, Syracuse then stopped Pittsburgh on the other end.
"I should have taken Frank Howard out of the game, but I just thought that he had been playing well," Jim Boeheim said after the game. "I should have taken him out and put Trevor back in. It was my mistake. I should have let Mike have the ball when we had the tied game."
After bringing the ball up, James Robinson intercepted a Howard pass and took it the length of the floor for a go-ahead layup.
Robinson finished with 12 points in 35 minutes of action.
Artis grabbed a defensive rebound on SU's next possession, a Gbinije missed jumper, which led to another field goal from Robinson. Pitt extended their lead to 72-68 with 22 seconds left.
Gbinije then sank a 3-pointer, and Syracuse was forced to foul Sheldon Jeter. Cooney checked back in for Howard, who had been playing well.
Jeter missed the front-end of the 1-and-1 and the ball went out of bounds. Syracuse was out of timeouts, but thanks to a video review of whose possession it should be, the Orange had time to discuss a final play.
"It was supposed to go to Mike, but he was double covered," Richardson said after the game.
Cooney took the inbounds pass from Malachi, brought the ball up and missed a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
Pittsburgh survived, 72-71. They will play top-seeded North Carolina tomorrow at Noon ET.
"They're a good team," Boeheim said. "I thought our defense was not bad. I thought our offense, we didn't drive the ball enough. We really didn't drive the ball until we got behind. We wanted to drive it more."
Syracuse is currently 19-13 overall, and most likely on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament.
"No comment," Boeheim said when asked about postseason play. "It's up to them [NCAA committee]. I don't know what they're going to do."
When Malachi Richardson was asked postgame, he had the same response; "I'm not talking about anything with the NCAA."
An emotional Trevor Cooney said, "It's tough. We're a good team and we've proved that throughout the year."
Cooney also added he was not given a reason for his season-low 24 minutes today.
Syracuse will now be forced to sweat out Selection Sunday in four days.