Tonight’s ballgame between Pitt (11-1) and Syracuse (10-4), fittingly enough, opened with an exceedingly deep three-ball from Pitt guard James Robinson. The Orange are a formidable three-point team — nothing changed at the start of this one. As the game went on, though, Mike Hopkins’ squad was unable to connect from downtown and ultimately suffered a heartbreaking loss, 72-61.
For Jamie Dixon’s Pitt team, many shots were not falling from the field throughout, but 19 offensive rebounds helped the Panthers collect 22 second-chance points compared to Syracuse, who was only able to grab two total second-chance points.
Offensive rebounds were key for the Panthers, nearly outrebounding Syracuse by 20 boards last night. Remember, this one of Pitt’s Achilles heels towards the beginning of this year; however, Dixon made this a point of emphasis in practice, and it has given Pitt a tremendous advantage when it comes to pulling down bounds.
Early play in the first half was extremely defensive oriented. Rafael Maia helped Pitt contain Syracuse’s high-powered offense. He tipped a few passes out of bounds that were heading for open lanes towards the hoop and collected a steal in the process.
As the half went on, both teams were committing fouls at an exceedingly high pace early (seven separately). Robinson, one of Pitt’s perimeter threats, was gone for nearly 11 minutes in the first half after two early fouls.
The first half was a shootout for Pitt and Syracuse, which eventually ended in a tie at 30 apiece. Nevertheless, the half would not end without some drama from a bad call on Maia in the final seconds of play. Nothing came out of it, except for two free throw shots for Syracuse, who only converted on to nod it up; the capacity crowd at the Petersen Events Center did not hold back showing their disdain of poor officiating by the refs.
Syracuse came out of the tunnel for the second half large and in charge, by jumping out to a healthy 43-35 lead after about five minutes of play. Tempo of the game began to shift in the Orange’s favor, and it was looking as if they were about to run away with their first game in ACC play in the 2015-2016.
Regardless, that was not the case. Back and forth play began to take hold, as would tie it up and eventually take a lead following a tide changing three-pointer from Jamel Artis, Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson answered with a three of his own; Pitt still led, 53-52.
Artis has become Pitt’s man on all sides of the ball; he does it all, at the line, rebounding, mid-range and from behind the arc. Surprisingly, though, he went 5-9 from the line tonight, which is not typical of his play whatsoever. In fact, he is seventh in the ACC when it comes to free throw shooting percentage, so do not expect 55 percent to become a new norm.
In spite of not having a great game from the line, Artis still nearly collected another double-double tonight. Artis’ play grew praise from Syracuse’s Hopkins and Pitt’s Dixon, Sheldon Jeter and Robinson in their press conference.
Trevor Cooney, Syracuse star, had the privilege of guarding Artis more often than not on ball screens, something that would not make many envious of him.
This past Big East matchup was a game that flip-flopped the score numerous times; although, we were able to have a clearer picture of the outcome with about four minutes left on the clock. Pitt had a lead 58-57 lead when they fouled Cooney and sent him to the line. Two free throw shots by him led to the Orange being able to regain a lead that would not last long than 30 seconds.
A Chris Jones layup followed by a Sheldon Jeter dunk put the Panthers back on top, and they would never look back.
Seconds later, Artis stole a pass from Syracuse that led to yet another Jeter dunk. The momentum of this rivalry game all but shifted, it was signed, sealed and delivered, Pitt was heading home victorious tonight in front of a national television audience in a hard-fought, entertaining matchup.
Jeter’s superb play has led to more praise and minutes by coach Dixon.
“We run plays around Jamel [Artis], Michael [Young] and Sheldon [Jeters]. He will be getting major minutes going forward, despite many labeling him a sixth-man of sorts.”
Pitt will move on to play lighter battle this Saturday at 4 pm when they take on the Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks at the Petersen Events Center.