Syracuse Orange 58 - Pittsburgh Panthers 56
It was going to happen this game. Pittsburgh had won 9 in a row at the Pete against top 5 teams.
It was bound to happen. Baye Moussa Keita sat out with a knee injury, limiting the Orange to 6 players in the rotation.
It was meant to happen. Syracuse was at 23-0 was "overdue" for a loss, and Pittsburgh has a habit of ruining their undefeated seasons.
Tyler Ennis made sure it didn't happen. Ennis hit a running three pointer as the buzzer expired to keep the dream alive. Pitt mounted a stingy defensive front and Syracuse had to hit tough shot after tough shot to stay in the game. Pittsburgh also gobbled up an impossible number of offensive rebounds, forcing the Orange 2-3 zone into the battle of the season.
The Syracuse Orange have found a way to win close games with the advantage of a balanced offensive arsenal. It seems that each game a different player will step up to push the team to victory. Once again, it was Tyler Ennis who provided a cool and steady stroke at the perfect time.
The sailing wasn't smooth for most of the game for Ennis, as he finished the first half with 3 points after shaking off an injury scare that had Orange fans around the country on the verge of an aneurysm. Boeheim even stated that he thought this was one of Tyler's worst games, as it seemed like he disappeared until hitting two clutch free throws and then the game winner in the final 20 seconds. Ennis managed to finish with 5 assists and 13 points.
None of it mattered in the end. The only thing that anyone will remember will be 'The Shot Heard 'Round The Pete' by Tyler Ennis, PhD.
*Then There Were Six*
The injury to Baye Keita has the Syracuse lineup in a precarious position, with only 6 players finding time in the regular rotation. Michael Gbinije was the only player to find significant time off the bench, filling several roles in a season-high 22 minutes. Gbinije actually provided a big lift early, finishing the first half as the highest scoring Orange player with 7 points.
C.J. Fair showed up in big spots to hit a corner three pointer and another jumper to cut the lead to 1 point with under a minute. Fair finished with 14 points in 39 minutes, including 10 in the second half, Trevor Cooney also hit a much needed three towards the end of the game, keeping SU within one possession. Cooney contributed 11 points, including 3-8 from deep.
Rakeem Christmas played timidly at times, but very well overall as the only true center remaining. Christmas continues to be very effective on offense when given the ball deep and put up 7 points on 3-4 shooting with 5 rebound, and 3 important blocks. Jerami Grant was clearly distracted by his new defensive assignment, and was held to a team low 6 points and only grabbed 5 rebounds.
Pittsburgh dominated most key stat categories, as they out rebounded Syracuse 35-24, shot more shots, blocked more shots, and had more assists. Led by Talib Zanna with 16 points and 14 rebounds and Lamar Patterson with 14 points and 4 assists, Both teams played a tough, physical game and the refs were very active, creating high-stress free throw situations with second left on the clock. Both teams shot very well from the line, especially late, with SU hitting 84% (16-19) and Pitt hitting 74% (14-19).
The basketball gods worked their voodoo tonight, as everyone including Orange fans, had mentally prepared for a loss. The Pete was loud and proud as the Orange "finally had a road test" and somehow came out on top. Greg Marshall, the coach for Wichita State was even in the ESPN studio at halftime to talk about finishing undefeated.
They say you can learn a lot from a loss. Tyler Ennis has opted out of that class. He seems to be using ESPN Freshman Focus like a EA Sports "GameBreaker", carrying the Orange to one win after another.
Syracuse moves to 24-0 and gets to sleep another night with dreams of an undefeated season. Next up, the Orange return to the Dome on Saturday at 3:00 to face North Carolina State, as team promoters push for a fourth 30,000 plus crowd this year. Winning is a great way to encourage that.
PS: Duke vs North Carolina was canceled and rescheduled on 2/20, two days before the SU-Duke rematch at Cameron. Basketball Gods are smiling on us tonight.
Until next time, LET'S! GO! S! U!