Pitt tops Syracuse for second straight win
The journey back to college basketball relevancy will be long and arduous for Pitt, but Saturday was a step in the right direction as the Panthers put together one of its best collective performances of the year, knocking off Syracuse (16-10, 8-5) 80-75 Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt (14-11, 3-9) who is now on a two-game win streak, split the season series with the Orange, who knocked off the Panthers 77-66 at the Carrier Dome back on Jan. 7.
Cam Johnson led all scorers with 22 points going 6 of 9 from the field, while Michael Young chipped in with 21 points on 7 of 13 shooting, adding nine rebounds and six assists to the campaign.
“I thought we took good shots today,” said coach Kevin Stallings. “I thought we got good shots and we attacked the zone well.”
“I thought with the exception of a little bit of a loss of pose when they were pressing, we played really well and followed the game plan. The last 12 minutes of the first half was probably as good a defense we’ve played against a really talented offensive team. Our approach against the zone was much better today and it felt good.”
The Panthers put up a solid 26 of 54 (48.1%) shooting, while adding an ACC-play best 25 assists despite surrendering 17 turnovers.
Known as a jump-shooting team the Panthers eviscerated the Jim Boeheim 2-3 zone early, scoring 30 points in the paint, while tearing down 15 offensive boards en route to a 41-25 overall difference on the glass.
“Our main goal was to get it inside, and once we had it inside we wanted to make quick decisions,” said Young who played a primary 4-man position in 39 minutes of play. “We were using good ball screens and finding open guys, and overall we were just able to get better looks.”
Pitt, who was down 42-21 in its first meeting with Syracuse, held a convincing seven-point advantage Saturday, while holding the Orange to just 1 of 8 shooting from beyond-the-arc in the first 20 minutes, while limiting them to an overall 26 of 60 (43.3%) from the field.
“When they came into our place we beat them in the first half,” said Boeheim. “They beat Marquette, Maryland and Virginia before that game, so I’d say they were good coming in. “They had some really tough games in this league, and when you get a team at home you can lose in this league. When you get into this league and things. Pitt’s got a real good team, good shooters. If you let one or two get away from you then you’re behind the 8 ball.”
Syracuse had 20 each from their dynamic-duo of guards John Gillon and Andrew White. Bench player Frank Howard (12) was the only other Orange to eclipse double-digits.
Complimenting Young and Johnson’s star performances was Jamel Artis who netted 14 points, while adding 11 rebounds, while Sheldon Jeter punched in 14 points and Chris Jones with seven.
“The spirit is up,” said Young about the team’s morale. “It’s been up since the loss at North Carolina. We have to ride this wave and keep playing harder, because if we keep playing harder we know we can win these games.”
And when asked if he and the Panthers can win out the remaining six games on the schedule, Young simply shouted “yes!”
Young, the Big Fella
Not often does posting up and finishing down low correlate with Young's game, but Saturday made fools of everybody, including Syracuse who watched Young go 7 of 13 from the field with just one attempt from the 3-point line, a place where the forward has been averaging four shots per game.
“I had a discussion with Mike (Friday) about his attitude about playing against zones,” said Stallings. “I thought he needed to adjust his attitude and he agreed with me. His approach versus the zone today was by far better than all zones we’ve played against this season. He was able to get in and attack and make plays for people.”
Young ate up the zone, going earning multiple trips to the charity stripe where he went 7 of 9, while corralling three offensive boards and adding six second-chance points himself.
“They weren’t upset with how I was playing before, but for the team they thought I needed to sacrifice. It’s easy to draw attention from the post,” Young said. “Especially with Jamel making shots, and Cam making six 3’s. Me playing inside and being able to make plays in the post really helps this team.”
Young had just three turnovers and committed just one foul in his 39 minutes of play, which was primarily spent in the paint.
The forward also talked about his first game playing without the mask that he had since his injury a month ago.
“It felt surprisingly weird,” he said. “At the beginning I wanted it on, but then I hit a few dunks, a few shots and I was happy to have it off.”
Now we’re starting to roll, boys…
With two ACC wins under its belt, Pitt has a golden chance to escape the dungeon of the ACC and jump NC State and Clemson for 12th place in the parity-filled league.
“For whatever reason we are playing better now,” Stallings said. “We competed hard against UNC and against Duke. We competed hard against Boston College. Great effort is sort of the price of having a uniform. That is something we expect as coaches and now I think we’re getting it more and more.”
Pitt has dates with three more ranked teams (North Carolina, Florida State and at Virginia) while also being tasked with a road trip against one of the hottest teams in the league of late, Wake Forest.
After the Spread
Pitt came in a +1.5 home underdog to the Orange. The win marks the first time the Panthers have covered at home since the 88-76 win over Virginia on Jan. 4. It also marks their first outright win at home in that span. The total, which closed at 148 just drifted over with both team’s tallying up 155 points combined. This marks the second straight game the Panthers have gone over.
The Panthers will look to carry their win streak to three games when they host Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Tipoff is set for 7 PM.