Another upset of a ranked Syracuse team. Jamie Dixon improved to 10-3 all-time against Syracuse, as his Pitt team knocked off the No. 6 Orange 66-55 in front of a packed house at the Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon.
It was as balanced and efficient an offensive performance as Pitt has had all season--19 assists on 24 field goals, with just one player in double figures, and at least eight players with six points or more. All this despite a season-high 20 turnovers from Pitt.
"I thought we did a great job getting the ball to the right guys at the right time," Dixon said. We did a great job on the glass, and that's what we wanted to do."
Tray Woodall led the way with 13 points, and set a big tone on defense with three steals. Talib Zanna had a game-high 12 rebounds, sparking a 39-24 rebounding edge for Pitt.
"We always talk about the strength of our team is in the numbers," Woodall said. "We have great depth to the team, and guys always work. A lot of these guys--Cam (Wright), Dante (Taylor) and (Trey) Zieg(ler)--they always answer when their number is called."
On the losing side, C.J. Fair had a game-high 20 points to lead Syracuse. Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams finished with 14 points and 13 points, respectively.
"Pitt is the best team we have played this year," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. "It's not even close."
Pitt took a 27-25 lead into halftime, having to bounce back twice in the first half.
Fair hurt the Panthers early, scoring five of the first seven points for Syracuse, and seven of the first 12. Syracuse gained an early 12-5 lead, barely seven minutes in. Dixon called timeout to regroup his team.
Pitt had some early success penetrating the zone, and making the extra pass. That was a big reason why Taylor had five of the first nine points for Pitt. Pitt was not having the same success shooting three-pointers, starting the game 0-7.
After trailing by seven--its largest deficit of the first half--Pitt answered with a 7-2 run. Instead of penetrating the zone, Pitt was taking its chances on penetrating to an open spot, then firing a short-range jumper. Such was the case for Zeigler and Cameron Wright--who each contributed a score on Pitt's 7-2 run. Other cases, such as a J.J. Moore putback with 10:03 left in the half, tied the game at 14-14.
Syracuse answered, getting a couple quick baskets to go up 18-14, less than a minute after Moore tied the game for Pitt. Pitt answered with a couple of big defensive plays and a couple of good looks. Woodall came up with a steal, stripping Carter-Williams of the ball. Pitt answered with a long two-pointer from Zanna. The Panthers tied the game on an impressive drive by Lamar Patterson, through the zone. He could not convert the free throw, leaving the game tied at 18-18. Not just that, Patterson drew a foul on Syracuse big man Rakeem Christmas. Syracuse, playing with just seven players, had to send Christmas to the bench with two fouls.
After missing its first seven three-point attempts, Woodall hit one from the top of the key. Pitt held its largest lead, 21-18, with just over six minutes left in the half.
Though Syracuse tied the game twice more, they could not regain the lead in the first half. A dunk from Zanna, and a jumper from Adams at the top of the key helped give Pitt the two-point lead at halftime. The Pitt bench was playing a factor, contributing 12 points. The bigger factor was 10 assists on 12 field goals--reflective of Pitt's ability to penetrate the zone, make the extra pass, then score off it.
Pitt maintained the lead for the entire second half. The Panthers started the second half with a 6-2 run, forcing Boeheim to call an early timeout.
The 6-2 run set the tempo for the second half. Even though Syracuse would tie the game at 35-35, thanks to an easy layup from Triche.
Pitt quickly regained that momentum, after Dixon called timeout. The Panthers went on a quick 6-0 run to tie their largest lead. Wright hit a three-pointer as the shot clock expired, regaining the lead for Pitt. Patterson added a spot jumper with time running away on the shot clock. Not only were the Panthers being patient with their shots for one of the few times this season, they were converting them too.
Wright even said there was no panic on his part, trying to get that shot.
"I was screaming at J.J., honestly, I definitely wanted the shot," Wright said. "J.J. gave me the opportunity, and I knocked it down."
Pitt also had help inside. A steal from Woodall led to an easy layup from Taylor. A putback from Adams gave Pitt another six-point lead.
Pitt opened up a nine-point lead after Durand Johnson's three-pointer. Pitt led 48-39. A five or six-point lead is still doable with five minutes left. A three-pointer--Pitt's third in 15 attempts--was reflective of the difference on Saturday. Pitt had key contributions from several different players. Syracuse could barely hang on with the seven players they had.
Further proof, after Adams was fouled underneath, he was unable to take his free throw shots after being poked in the eye. Boeheim was given his choice of free throw shooters. He selected Wright, who was 0-4 from the line in Big East games. Wright converted both attempts, giving Pitt a 52-45 lead.
"I had a feeling (Boeheim) was going to pick me," Wright said. "I hadn't been shooting the ball well from the free throw line. We practice free throws so much, day in and day out. I was actually happy that he did pick me. It was a couple extra points."
After converting just three foul shots in 12 attempts in its previous game against Louisville, Pitt converted 9-13 free throw shots in the game's final five minutes.