SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It appears the demise of the Syracuse men's basketball program was greatly exaggerated. The Orange (10-6, 2-1) used a 30-2 first half run to run away from rival Pittsburgh (12-4, 1-2) inside the Carrier Dome on Saturday, eventually winning 77-66.
Pittsburgh had been a thorn in the side of Syracuse over the last decade-plus, with Jamie Dixon seemingly having the perfect formula for the vaunted 2-3 zone. Despite having the same players, new head coach Ken Stallings was unable to duplicate that success.
Syracuse was all over the Panthers early, holding Pitt to just 21% shooting in the first. The zone was aggressive, trapped, got deflections, blocked shots and made a potent Pittsburgh offense look pedestrian.
"The difference in the game was our defense," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "The first half was probably some of the best defense we’ve played since I can’t even remember when. Tyler (Roberson) came in and blocked three or four shots. We were covering and staying in front of people.
"We didn’t give them really any easy looks."
Offensively, the Orange rode some hot outside shooting to victory, connecting on 14 of 27 three-point shots.
"We had Tyus (Battle) and Andrew (White) open," Boeheim said. "John (Gillon) was really, really good and his floor game was just about as good as you could get. He was making plays and controlling the game. I thought he was great.
"One of the big reasons he’s in the game, when they don’t come up on him – he can make a three. I thought that was a huge difference in the game today that he got those shots and he can make those shots.”
For the second consecutive game, Syracuse started John Gillon at point guard. He responded with 20 points and 11 assists. Tyler Roberson was a huge spark off the bench, altering shots at the rim, keeping offensive rebounds alive and giving the Orange a lot of defensive energy. He finished with four points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
Roberson's six blocks doubled his previous career-high of three.
Andrew White added 21 points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block in a much more active defensive effort for the graduate transfer. Freshman Tyus Battle poured in 15 while accumulating three steals. Tyler Lydon added 13 points.
Pitt's Jamel Artis finished with a game-high 23 points after a slow start.
"It was a really great effort," Boeheim said. "Pittsburgh is a tremendous offensive team. I think one of the best offensive teams in the country. They showed that in the second half. The first half, the defense was the difference."
Syracuse next faces Virginia Tech on the road on Tuesday, January 10th. That game tips at 7:00pm.