B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson came into Saturday averaging just 3.6 and 2.3 points per game, respectively. But the two combined to score 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting in yesterday's loss, providing a dormant Syracuse offense with a pair of much-needed sparks off the bench.
"I thought they both did a good job of coming off the bench and making plays," Syracuse guard Michael Gbinije said. "...It's nice to see them contribute."
Johnson finished 4-of-5 from the field on the afternoon and connected on three 3-pointers, each of which came in the game's final eight minutes.
With Syracuse facing a 53-42 deficit at the 7:44 mark, Johnson made a triple from the left wing to cut Pittsburgh's lead to eight. On the ensuing SU possession, he hit a second consecutive trey -- this time from the top of the key -- to pull the Orange within five.
Then, with one minute to play, he buried a 3-pointer from the right corner, just in front of his own bench. The Carrier Dome crowd nearly exploded as the shot sunk, and Syracuse had suddenly trimmed Pitt's lead to just one. If it weren't for a questionable illegal screen called against Rakeem Christmas on the next SU possession, that Johnson triple could have potentially served as the decisive play in an 11-point comeback.
"He played well," Patterson said of his teammate. "Coach tells him to shoot it when he's open. That's what he did. He knocked 'em down. Big shots."
Patterson, who finished 3-of-5 with nine points, knocked down a few big shots of his own. Just over two weeks since Boeheim used a postgame press conference to implore Patterson to stop shooting 3-pointers, the sophomore found himself with no choice but to attempt one. Six-and-a-half minutes into the second half, Patterson caught a pass on the right wing from Gbinije. With the shot clock nearing its expiration, his only option was to hoist a 3-pointer, which he drilled to cut the Pittsburgh lead to 41-36.
About two minutes later, Patterson knocked down a baseline jumper, again assisted by Gbinije and again cutting the Pittsburgh lead to five.
"Just to see my shot go in, it felt good," said Patterson, who also made two layups in the first half. "When I shot the three, it felt good. When I shot the pull-up, it felt even better."
Patterson's nine points were the most he's scored in one game since scoring 13 points in a win over Cornell on December 22. He came into the afternoon shooting just 26 percent from the field and just 16 percent from deep.
Johnson hadn't been much better. The forward entered Saturday shooting only 28 percent from the field and 23 percent from beyond the arc. But unlike with Patterson, Boeheim has encouraged Johnson to shoot.
"He is a good shooter," Boeheim said. "The problem we have when he's in there is that he's small at the forward spot. It hurts us on defense a little bit. But we know he's a capable shooter. He just hasn't shot the ball well."
Making Johnson's efforts along with Patterson's especially useful was the shoddy offensive play of a number of Syracuse's leading scorers. Trevor Cooney and Kaleb Joseph each shot 0-for-5 from the field and went scoreless, while Michael Gbinije went 3-of-8 and scored 12 points -- his lowest total in a game since scoring nine in a loss to Miami on Jan. 24. Rakeem Christmas did manage to score 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting but often faced Pittsburgh double teams.
"A lot of teams key in on Rak, so whenever we were lucky enough to get him the ball, they would sometimes overcommit it," Johnson said. "...It would usually be either my man or Ron's man, so whenever Rak kicked it out we were pretty open for a good shot."
Only four games remain for the Orange on the 2014-15 season, but performances like Saturday's can at least act as building blocks moving into next season, when both Johnson and Patterson should have increased roles -- assuming neither transfers.
"Not only did they play well, but they made big plays at the end," Cooney said. "That shows a lot of growth in them as players."
For players who have struggled like Johnson and Patterson have, growth might be the best the Orange can hope for.