I sat down to watch the game around 10 pm last night. It’s been that kind of a week. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Where to begin.
First, it has to be recognized just how on James Southerland was in this game. Perfect from outside. Yes, the defense — especially in the first half — was a step slow. But he was knocking everything down regardless. He was 6-9 the day before against Seton Hall. It was infectious. Syracuse finished the game shooting 12-19 on 3s. Everywhere else they were 10-28.
The three point shooting made the difference, that could not quite be overcome. The effects of the double-bye were once more readily apparent in the first half. Pitt was just not as ready at the start of the game. Syracuse had more energy. They were getting rebounds and extra chances. They outrebounded Pitt 18-14 in the first half. Something that might be simply explained as having more chances at defensive rebounds since Pitt shot 35% to their 53%. That wasn’t it.
Even shooting that well, the Orange grabbed 7 offensive rebounds in the first half. Getting the extra chances early coupled with getting very hot late in the first half. Pitt put itself into a hole.
It wasn’t like Syracuse came out and blitzed Pitt. For the first 10 minutes the game was tight. The teams swapped the lead eight times. Then Syracuse and Southerland went red hot shooting and Pitt was the exact opposite.
And even as it appeared that Pitt could at least close the half with a little surge, Syracuse got the friendly bounce on the rim to drop one more 3 before the half. Again, Pitt was a step late and not able to foul early enough when they had one to give. Dixon was visibly pissed in his rather curt halftime interview with Andy Katz.
I have to harp on the first half difference in energy. Syracuse had it, and Pitt looked like a team that was still just getting up to game speed. The Orange were more active, their zone looked much sharper than it has in a few weeks. They were much better at keeping the middle bottled up and not letting Pitt get to soft spots that Pitt typically exploits. Some of that has to do with Pitt having less energy to get to the spots faster, but you do have to give Syracuse credit as well.
In the second half, Pitt dominated the boards. They had a 26-10 advantage in the second half, including limiting Syracuse to 1 offensive rebound. Their energy and effort was clearly there. They just put themselves in too deep a hole.
Syracuse was able to keep Pitt at bay for most of the second half. Even as the shots didn’t fall as frequently, their inside presence was in foul trouble and Pitt’s energy was noticeably higher.
The final five minutes just had Syracuse hanging on, barely. A couple missed free throws, some errant shots, and a turnover on a simply terrible, telegraphed, soft pass kept Pitt from making the comeback.
Okay some individual thoughts.
James Robinson. So he found his shot. Unfortunately, he’s lost some strength on his passes. Right from the start, his passes lacked any umph. They were soft, slow bouncers that led to three early turnovers by him. As much as his well-placed shooting and free throws gave Pitt a chance in the second half, that turnover while down 3 with 25 seconds left was the killer.
Tray Woodall. Not far off what was expected offensively. It seemed that he was just slightly off at times. His biggest error was trying to rush a 3 before the half down 10. If I had to guess, I’d say he was hoping that Pitt could go 2-for-1 on chances to cut into the lead. Just not a smart play there. There wouldn’t have been enough time, even if it went. Pitt wasn’t in any position to rebound, and it led instead to a by Cuse to end the half (with the friendliest bounce possible). Pitt needed a bigger game from him or the next guy.
Lamar Patterson. The numbers look about right: 14 points, 11 rebounds. But he was also just off. Only 1-5 on his 3s. The biggest problem when he and Robinson are on the floor together is that it sometimes seems that they are playing a game of who can refuse to shoot longest.
Talib Zanna. He brought effort and is still scoring. When he was in a funk, he would merely bend for a loose ball. Last night he was diving at them. Wish he was still shooting 60-70% on free throws rather than the 50% he’s been at in Big East play.
Steven Adams. With Dante Taylor’s early foul trouble followed by the profuse bleeding the officials failed to see, Adams got 31 minutes. That’s the high point. Len Elmore was accurately critical of Adams last night. It’s one thing to put a hand up to wave for the ball. It’s something else, to actually put yourself in position to receive the pass and do something with it. Despite all the foul troubles that the Orange big men were in, Adams was largely ineffective for most of the game. He continues to struggle to field passes cleanly inside. Taking too much time to gather and put it up. Again, Elmore was all over him for not going hard at the basket when he did have the ball. Letting himself get stuffed or settling for tossing up the ball at the basket.
Trey Zeigler. Why is he allowed to play? I’m not giving up on the kid for next year, but he cannot be allowed to play 13 minutes at this point. His defense remains atrocious and he is back to being lost and tentative on offense. Give Moore some more minutes at that spot. Or Johnson. I’m even fine with Cam Wright because I know he will play better defense with no worse offense. The last time Zeigler scored more than 2 minutes in a game: February 2 — versus Syracuse.