Sometimes the final score of a game isn't truly indicative of how things went. That was sort of the case today as Pitt lost to Syracuse, 77-66. While the final will look pretty respectable, most of the game, the Panthers simply weren't competitive. For much of the contest, the lead was up over 20 points, in fact. Syracuse had a 20-point lead under five minutes in the game until Pitt sort of had a flurry at the end to cut it nearly in half.
Syracuse did it with only six guys playing, too. The Panthers went much deeper into the bench but got zero production from those guys. Four guys played off the bench for Pitt but they took only three shots and made none of them. The bench hasn't been particularly deep for Pitt this year but I don't know that they've gone scoreless before without looking it up.
Jamel Artis and Michael Young gave Pitt their regular 40 points today (23 from Artis and 17 from Young). But, like the rest of the team, they didn't shoot too well, making a combined 12 of 29 shots. Others were far worse, though, in terms of efficiency in shooting the ball. Sheldon Jeter had a double double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but also another 3-10 game (he was also 3-10 in that Notre Dame game last week, you might remember). Cam Johnson was an awful 2-10. Those were the four guys taking the bulk of the shots and when none of them are particularly on, that's going to be a problem.
In all, Pitt shot about 35% from the field while Syracuse was up over 50%. You hate to oversimplifly but sometimes the game really is as simple as who shot the ball better. Today, it wasn't even close and the way the teams shot the ball was easily the story of the game.
One thing everyone should be thankful for is the Virginia win. With two losses to start the ACC season, things aren't great. Three, and it might be all out panic mode. Granted, none of these games were easy - you had two ranked teams and a traditional rival of sorts on the road that was desperate for a win. But 1-2 at this point is far better than 0-3.
Losing this game is a bit frustrating because Syracuse has been down this year. But all teams simply have games like this and sometimes, there's no amount of preparation that can help. Blaming a loss like today on head coach Kevin Stallings is silly. The team not only had plenty of open looks, often, they were completely alone. This was all about players not being able to shoot and having an off game. Jamie Dixon, Roy Williams, or Coach K wouldn't have salvaged this hot mess. You almost always have to shoot reasonably well to win and today, Pitt didn't do that.
Could Pitt come out and defend a little better since Syracuse shot about 52% from the field? Sure, I guess. But if the Panthers shot even respectable today, that would have gone a long way to helping. They also outrebounded Syracuse (+8) and each team had about the same amount of turnovers, so I'm not sure this is really an effort situation. Plus, Syracuse was 52% from long range, too, making 14-27 there. Pitt wasn't only ice cold but the Orange were also red hot. That's an ugly combination.
And in terms of wanting to win this one, it's easy to forget that Pitt wasn't even expected to win. The Panthers were 3 1/2-point underdogs coming into the game so it's not as if they flubbed an easy one here. This was a desperate Syracuse team that absolutely was in more need of a win than Pitt. Not to say that Pitt can afford to give games like this away but their resume coming into the game was also much better than that of the Orange.
This is the ultimate get on the bus and move onto the next one type of game. Unfortunately, though, with a road game against Louisville, things don't exactly get easier. The schedule does let up a little later on, but as we all knew, the ACC slate is a very difficult one.
That's part of the reason you want to win a game like today against a team that's been struggling. And if you're going to completely lay an egg, you can argue it would be more beneficial to do so against a great team when you're not necessarily hoping to win. But that's not the way it works and sometimes those eggs come in otherwise very winnable contests.