Sometimes, you've just got to tip your hat and move on. As much as I don't want that to be one of those times, it is.
That said, Pitt's 59-54 loss to Syracuse was a bitter pill to swallow. I came out of the first half believing that Pitt was clearly the better team. In the second half, the Orange made me retract that a bit as they looked superior. The Panthers, though, didn't give up and not only pushed Syracuse, but went ahead.
Pitt went up 52-49 around the five minute mark in the second half, but then went cold. Like, horrifyingly cold. The Panthers' next few sequences read a little like this: Missed shot, turnover, missed shot, foul, missed shot, missed shot, missed shot, missed shot. Since that lead, Pitt scored only two more points the rest of the way. The Panthers just went really, really cold late in the game.
After the Panthers went up by three there, I virtually pleaded with them to extend the lead. That never happened, and it cost them.
There was more to it than that, though: layups and free throws. Not having a shot chart available just yet, it's hard to predict just how many shots Pitt missed at point blank range. But yeah, it was a lot. Taking a shot in the dark, I'll say it got into double digits. I made this point on Twitter, but you just can't leave that many points on the court against a good team. Pitt is good enough that they can do that against unranked foes and still get by much of the time, but Syracuse didn't play well in the first half and was a sleeping giant. You knew they were going to play better and Pitt needed to take advantage while they could.
The free throws are much easier to tally since they're readily available. Pitt shot a dismal 13-24 there and that was another reason for the loss. Another point I made on the site a week or so ago was that while the free throw shooting, in theory, shouldn't get worse, that it could due to some more pressure being attached to those shots. I'm not going to say Pitt choked at the line, but playing in the Carrier Dome in front of that kind of crowd is a little different then trying to make them against a bad non-con team at the Pete.
Another problem was Pitt's bench play, if you can actually call it that. The Panthers got a total of three points, three rebounds, and a single assist. Chris Jones was also 1-4 from the line accounting for all their free throws. Just a really weak performance from guys that could have provided a little boost. I don't have the final minutes yet for those guys, but I know they didn't play a ton. Still, if you were looking for one guy to at least step up and have a mediocre game, well, you're still waiting.
It should be noted that neither team got much from their bench. Syracuse's reserves only scored a total of two points, actually. But Pitt relies more on being a deeper team and needs those guys to contribute something ... anything. I hate to pick on Jones, but even if it's only free throws, you've got to make them when you have the chance.
Lamar Patterson also got off to yet another slow start. Again, that can be masked when playing bad teams, but Pitt can't afford to get a half of a game out of him in trying to beat a top five team on the road. FWIW, he stormed back in the second and ended up with a pretty good game (18 points), but he was a non-factor in the first half. He just needs to get himself going a little sooner.
I don't even know what to feel about this game. The reactionary feeling is anger because you look at all the chances Pitt had around the basket that they squandered. The more rationale feeling, though, is that Pitt battled back after playing a horrible half, missed all those bunnies, shot horribly from the line, and still nearly beat the No. 2 team in the nation on their own court.
The poll voters will, predictably, be in a rush to vote Pitt out of their Top 25 and declare that they're not that good, but the good news is that, for those of us who watched the game, we know that Pitt has a pretty decent team. Tough loss, but you can't win them all.
See you in the Pete, 'Cuse - I like our chances, by the way.