Pitt trailed much of its game against Syracuse, but showed up when it counted.
Syracuse led the entire first half and for a good bit of the second before pulling out an 83-77 win at home on Saturday. The victory pushes Pitt to 16-8 on the year and evens their ACC record to 5-5.
Pitt closed the game on a 10-4 run and just made a few more plays at the end of the game. Either team could have won this one and the Panthers' ability to make shots at the end just came at the right time. If the final few minutes of the game were played ten times, realistically, it's probably a 50-50 split or close to it. In that regard, you just have to take your hats off to Pitt for baskets when they needed them. Syracuse, conversely, had only a single field goal in the last six minutes.
I was pretty impressed with the defensive intensity by Pitt. They got off to a slow start, but part of that was attributed to Syracuse just making some really difficult shots. The Orange came ready to play and their effort today would have beaten a good many teams. But Pitt was really into the whole game and that's something we haven't always seen this year. You expect it in an atmosphere like today, but it just isn't a given.
It goes without saying that it's a game the Panthers could have lost. The Orange had the top two leading scorers in the game in Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije, who each had 23 points. Syracuse shot slightly better from the field, making exactly 50% of their shots and Pitt, as is often the case, had its struggles from the free throw line, making only 18-28. They were only 5-10 in the final 15 minutes of the game from the line and that didn't help things in a close one.
Fortunately, Pitt also had some things going for them. Jamel Artis had another monster game with 20 points and ten rebounds, and is averaging about 21 points per game over his last seven. Michael Young had a double double and Pitt also got strong performances from bench players, Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones, who combined for 33 points.
I was really impressed by what both did, but Jones hit three big three-pointers and all three came when Pitt was trailing by either six or nine points. What he did was help keep the team in the game when things could have started coming off the tracks.
Cameron Wright missed most of the game for the Panthers with some sort of injury and that makes the win even more impressive. Fortunately for Pitt, they got a huge effort from Jones, which more than made up it. Hopefully he can get back on the court soon. He has been extremely up and down this year, but the fact is that Pitt's guards have all struggled this season. You never know who is going to be on/off in any particular game, so having as many options as possible is what the team needs.
This isn't a win on the level of Notre Dame, obviously, but it's certainly a resume booster. More importantly, Pitt just needed this one since they still have to travel to Syracuse. Losing today really would have meant their bubble hopes took a severe hit. The Panthers added a quality win just in time with three huge games against Louisville, North Carolina, and Virginia coming up.