It is not that the Pete is a place that holds magical qualities that renders Syracuse unable to win. It just seems that way. The Orange have won only one game at the Pete (Damn you, 2004!).
Pitt couldn’t hit threes. They turned the ball over a ridiculous amount. Only one player even made it to double digit scoring. Steve Adams turned his ankle and took a shot to his face or eye. And Pitt won the game by ten.
They didn’t play anywhere close to a perfect game and took out a top-ten team.
“I think they’ll be difficult to beat the rest of the way,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of the Panthers. “I’ll be surprised if they lose many games. I like their team. I think it’s a very, very good team. They’re the best team we’ve played, without any question. It’s not even close.”
Pitt had plenty that they did do right.
Right from the start Pitt got out on transition and penetrated per their gameplan (they didn’t score on those drives but they got right into Cuse). The passing was constant. Pitt probed the zone and looked comfortable looking finding seams (which makes it all the more mind-boggling when they look so confused when other teams throw it at them).
Pitt committed a season-high 20 turnovers but also assisted on 19 of its 24 baskets, often passing around the perimeter and into the high post while working the shot clock.
“We just wanted to keep swinging, make that zone move, get an inside touch and keep that ball moving,” said Pitt junior forward Lamar Patterson, who had a team-best five assists. “It’s hard to guard when the ball is moving because they have to move with the ball and attack the gap. We were just taking what they were giving us.”
The turnovers — much like the scoring — was balanced. The backcourt had 11 and the frontcourt added 9. Some of that is going to be the nature of passing as much as they did. There wasn’t as much standing around and dribbling by the backcourt.
Syracuse shot 37 percent from the field and only made 3 of its 14 attempts from 3-point range. C.J. Fair scored 20 points to lead the Orange, but the Panthers did a stellar job defending the backcourt duo of Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams, who combined to go 7 for 26 from the field.
The Panthers also clobbered the Orange on the boards, winning the rebounding battle, 39-24. They had 15 offensive rebounds, which limited Syracuse’s transition offense and kept the game at the tempo the Panthers wanted to play.
“Defensively, I thought we played as well as we’ve played all year,” Boeheim said. “I thought the difference in the second half was Pitt getting on the boards. They’re a tremendous defensive team. We knew we were going to have trouble scoring against them.”
Yes, Pitt absolutely dominated on the glass at both ends. Only Durand Johnson did not grab a board. Talib Zanna continues to struggle offensively, but was all over the rebounds. He finished with 12 — 6 at each end.
One of the interesting things to note from the game is that James Robinson only played 18 minutes — which probably was a contributing factor to the number of turnovers. First half foul troubles played some role in that, but he only played 8 minutes in the second half. He’s definitely struggling to be a factor offensively, but more than that, the much improved play of Trey Zeigler has been eating into his minutes.
Zeigler is contributing more on offense and is not the defensive liability he was to start the season. With Woodall and Patterson out there with Zeigler, Pitt still has guys who can pass and distribute. Then there is the return of Cam Wright to the backcourt rotation.
In the middle of January, Cameron Wright had fallen out of favor with Pitt’s coaching staff. A big contributor off the bench in the first half of the season, Wright played one minute against Villanova, four minutes in the next game against Connecticut and then did not play at Providence.
Coach Jamie Dixon announced the next day that Wright was going to be back in the rotation and playing a regular role. Saturday at Petersen Events Center, Wright rewarded his coach by making the biggest shot of the game in Pitt’s 65-55 Big East Conference victory against No. 6 Syracuse.
Yeah, go figure. Wright drilled a huge three and made two free throws when Steven Adams got clobbered and had to leave the game — Wright was picked to shoot the free throws by Jim Boeheim.
The Hall of Fame coach chose Cam Wright, who came into the game as a 47.6-percent foul shooter (10 of 21). Wright hit both foul shots.
“I had a feeling he was going to pick me,” Wright said. “But we practice free throws so much day in and day out, I was confident.
“I was actually happy that he did pick me — a couple extra points.”
On the free throw front, kind of a disappointing 14-21 shooting. Yes, far better than the overall number at the Louisville game. But this time Adams, Zanna and Zeigler did not shoot free throws — so you would expect better numbers. Lamar Patterson inexplicably was 1-5 on free throws.