Down 61-60 with 40 seconds to play, Michael Gbinije held the ball at the top of the key. As he dribbled left towards the basket, Rakeem Christmas moved up to set a pick. The center was whistled for an illegal screen, much to the chagrin of Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, who voiced his displeasure to the officials.
Boeheim wouldn't comment on the call afterwards, but that didn't stop his players from doing so.
"I just drove and heard the whistle blow," Gbinije said. "I turned around and saw that it was on Rak...I personally didn't think it was a foul, but it's not my call to make."
On the ensuing Panthers possession, it appeared as if Pittsburgh's James Robinson traveled under his own basket. This time, the official standing on the baseline didn't blow his whistle.
"It's frustrating," Gbinije said of the two calls. "At the same time, we shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation to begin with. But, like I said, it's frustrating having the perspective that things could have been different."
Prior to that sequence, Syracuse trailed 60-51 with two-and-a-half minutes remaining. The Orange used a 9-1 run to claw back in it, but the Panthers answered by scoring four of the game's final five points to secure their second victory over SU in as many weeks. It was a common theme throughout the afternoon; for every punch the Orange threw, the Panthers punched back slightly harder.
Down 13-7 nine minutes into the game, Syracuse went on a 16-7 run and surged ahead 23-20. Pittsburgh then finished the half on an 11-2 run. Early in the second half, the Orange trailed 35-25 before cutting the Panthers' lead to 37-33 with 16 minutes left. Seven minutes later, Pitt was up 51-40.
And despite cutting the lead to one point in the final minute, Syracuse never led in the second half.
"They do a lot of things well," Trevor Cooney said of the Panthers. "They move the ball well...They really know how to work us around and make us work on defense. And they're able to make some shots and that's always tough, too."
In the loss, Rakeem Christmas shot 8-of-14 from the field and led the Orange with 20 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
"(In the second half) we tried to move the ball a little better and get it to him in different situations where they wouldn't be able to come right away" Boeheim said of Christmas, who also collected a game-high 12 rebounds and had two blocks. "...We got it to him in better spots."
Aside from Christmas, the rest of Syracuse's starting five didn't do much. Gbinije had seven rebounds and six assists, but went just 3-of-8 from the field and scored 12 points -- the least he's had in a game since scoring nine in a loss to Miami on January 24. Neither Cooney nor Kaleb Joseph scored a point, as the guards combined to go 0-for-10 from the field. Tyler Roberson, who left the game in the first half and received stitches above his left eye, scored just nine points in 31 minutes.
Fortunately for the Orange, B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson each came off the bench and made contributions. The two combined to go 7-of-10 from the field for 20 points. Patterson hit a three-pointer to pull the Orange to within 41-36 with 11 minutes to play, while Johnson hit three of his four attempts from beyond the arc, one of which cut Pittsburgh's lead to 61-60 with just under a minute remaining.
Patterson's nine points were the most he's had in a game since scoring 13 against Colgate on December 22. Johnson's 11 points marked just the third time this season he's scored in double figures.
"I thought both Ronnie and B.J. finally made some shots, which is why we were in the game," Boeheim said. "They haven't been doing that. That was big for those guys to make those shots."
But in the end, Johnson, Patterson, and the rest of the Orange couldn't make quite enough of those shots to come away with a second straight win. Syracuse shot 42.9 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range, while Pittsburgh converted on 50 percent of its field goal tries and 42.9 percent of its three-point attempts.
Chris Jones led all Pittsburgh scorers with 19 points off the bench, while Jamel Artis added 16 points and seven assists. With the win, the Panthers moved to 7-7 in ACC play, while the Orange fell to 8-6.
"It's disappointing," Gbinije said. "...Give Pitt credit. They came in here, and it's tough to beat a team twice in the league, and they did it. Big ups to them."