Syracuse Orange 59 - Pittsburgh Panthers 54
Syracuse gave away their lead late, only to pull out a victory rehind great play by Tyler Ennis. This was a typical Pitt-Syracuse matchup where a gritty defensive game between two familiar rivals ends with a toss-up. Win or lose, this will be the scariest ACC matchup for Syracuse, with Jamie Dixon knowing how to play against the zone, and more importantly, in the Carrier Dome. Coming into the game, Dixon was 10-4 against the Orange and 5-1 in the Dome.
This game had all the characteristics of a Syracuse loss, between giving up 16 offensive rebounds to missing free throws. The Orange didn't get much benefit from the referee decisions, and they weren't able to hit three pointers. The reason they were able to survive with a win is by clinging to their formula of balance offensive attack and smart crunch-time decisions.
Tyler Ennis was the key to victory with 14 of his 16 points coming in the second half. He hit two baskets in the final three minutes, and added two big free throws to seal the victory. As the case has been in all of Syracuse's close games, Ennis has realized the need for him to score in big moments, and he has yet to fail to deliver. While Ennis only had 3 assists and 1 steal, he still only had 1 turnover. Ennis matched up well against Pitt's James Robinson, both who had very good games.
Rakeem Christmas was the second most important player today, between his stiff interior defense and silky scoring touch. Christmas continues to challenge for the season FG% mark, with 4-4 on the day for his 8th game out of 18 without a missed shot. He also hit two clinching free throws to finish with 10 points and added 3 blocks, but was uber-reliable when getting the ball near the basket.
Jerami Grant was able to find his normal spots en route to 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. A couple jumpers, a couple layups, and a fiery put-back dunk seem to be the status quo for Grant. Jerami was fairly quiet towards the end of the game, but was able to hit two BIG free throws with three minutes left to cut Pitt's lead from 3 to 1. As athletic and skilled Grant is on both end of the floors, he continues to rely on a predictable offensive attack, without the ability to create baskets.
For as much talk as there is about multiple Cooneys, I think C.J. Fair is the one with a truly split personality. For all the times where he is providing Syracuse with senior leadership and scoring, there are just as many times where he is giving away bad turnovers and head scratching decisions. His two missed free throws on a technical and then immediate turnover at the end of the first half were crushing. CJ did put up 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, but disappeared during several stretches of the second half. CJ's biggest problem is that he set such a high bar of expectations that even normal games seem like a let down.
Trevor Cooney was an immediate resident of the James A Boeheim Signature Doghouse. Cooney shrank on the offensive end and wasn't his normal self on defense. Michael Gbinije actually saw the majority of the first half minutes at Shooting Guard. Gbinije played well, improving on the offensive end and providing his always solid defense and ball handling. It was a good trade-off, as the perimeter defense was the most important factor in the game. Cooney finished with 6 points on two three pointers, and his second half defense was able to tighten up considerably, until he allowed three straight Lamar Patterson 3 pointers to cut the lead to a one possession game. Tough game for Coon Dog.
Baye Keita is an enigma. He seems to have hit his ceiling on effectiveness, and continues to struggle catching the ball, including on several rebounds that were giveaways to Pitt. However, his senior leadership is unmatched, and it was great to see him in the huddle with a minute left to go in a 1 point ball game.
Somebody give Doris Burke a clipboard, because she clearly knows how to beat the zone. Or at least talk about beating the zone. We were able to hear 20 times what Pittsburgh is doing right offensively. We didn't hear a single comment about Syracuse's team offense, other than individual accolades.
The referees didn't make bad calls as much as they missed calls. There were several more fouls in the game than showed up in the books, including several Pittsburgh moving screens that must have been invisible. The Big East refs showed up for this physical battle, as mentioned by Boeheim after the game. They were better in the early second half, only to miss several tough calls down the stretch.
Phew. Phew phew. We survived Boeheim's Kryptonite in Jamie Dixon, as Pitt gave Syracuse it's first defeat in 2 of the past 3 seasons. We have yet to see the last of him, as we have another matchup @ the Pete in February.
Syracuse survives to live another day (undefeated). Their next game is at Miami next Saturday, so they have some time to prepare for the matchup zone that gave them fits at the Carrier Dome.
Until Next Time Fellow Juicers, Let's! Go! S! U!