Pitt came into its game with Syracuse at a bit of a disadvantage. But despite several things working against them, the Panthers managed to pull out a stunning 63-60 win over the Orange.
The Panthers (6-2) were thrown a curve when it was announced two days ago that the game that was originally to take place in February would be played today. Syracuse (6-2), of course, was thrown that same curve, but they at least had the benefit of getting the game at home. And while the box will show that both teams played only eight players each, Pitt was missing three players (reportedly due to COVID protocol), including John Hugley, Nike Sibande, and Noah Collier, in addition to Justin Champagnie, who is missing time due to injury.
Sure, none of the players missing in action linked to COVID protocol could be classified as a star. But Hugley is one of the better rebounders on the team and Sibande is a contributor as well, since being granted the approval to play this year. And Champagnie, of course, is the best player on the team. The Panthers came into this one very shorthanded.
Add it all up and the 11-0 deficit that Pitt faced early made it seem like this would be a game to pack it in by halftime. And after the lead swelled to 18 in the first half and was at 14 at halftime, there looked to be little reason for non-diehard fans to stick around. By that point, Pitt was shooting terribly and even remaining in contention in the second half seemed unlikely.
But the Panthers did contend. They did more than that. Pitt scored the first eight points of the second half and, after a 13-3 run, the Panthers cut the lead to four.
Syracuse didn’t go quietly. Robert Braswell knocked down three consecutive three-pointers and the Orange went on a 14-2 run to push the lead back to 16 with about 11 minutes left. But Pitt would fight back again. The Panthers scored seven straight and continued chipping at the lead while the Orange offense would disappear late. Syracuse would score only five points in the final six minutes an the Panthers would take their first lead on an Au’Diese Toney bucket with eight seconds left, going up 61-60. After a turnover and two ensuing free throws by Xavier Johnson, the Panthers left with a thrilling 63-60 win.
There wasn’t any one guy that did it for Pitt, though, Toney has a pretty good claim to player of the game with 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, despite turning the ball over six times. Four players (including Ithiel Horton, who led the way with 14 points) got into double figures and Terrell Brown turned in one of his better games with eight points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. Will Jeffress also got a start and while he scored only two points, he deserves some recognition for his eight rebounds.
This was just a really gritty game for Pitt. I honestly hate that word but it’s one that not only suffices but is the one I keep coming back to in my head, replaying the game in my mind. It was one that looked unlikely at the start and even more so at halftime. For those guys to turn things around in the second half on the road after such a bad start is really great to see.
The Panthers are clearly not at full speed, missing their best player in Justin Champagnie. But at 6-2 with two conference victories already, it’s hard to say that the team is not meeting, if not exceeding, expectations at this point. Well done —