Sometimes all you need is a spark to run away with as basketball game.
A few thunderous dunks from Justin Champagnie gave Pitt the spark it needed.
The Pittsburgh Panthers used a series of runs in the second half to pull away from the Syracuse Orange on Saturday. A poor final 20 minutes from the Orange on both sides of the ball meant that the Panthers wrestled control of the game away from Syracuse. Pittsburgh outscored Syracuse by 25 in the second half to win 96-76.
Before the game started, the Panthers got a much needed boost as Champagnie returned much earlier than expected from a leg injury. The forward had been averaging 17.8 points to lead Pitt and 12.3 rebounds to lead the ACC prior to his injury. However, the Panthers were playing their first game in 10 days as their last two games were postponed due to program shutdowns from their opponents in Florida State and Georgia Tech.
That meant the last game that Pitt played was the January 6 comeback win against Syracuse, and the Orange took advantage of the long layoff. The Panthers failed to make a field goal for the first 6:34 of the game, which allowed SU to take a 9-1 lead before the first Pitt basket.
Syracuse did just enough to extend its lead through the play of Quincy Guerrier and Marek Dolezaj. The Syracuse frontcourt found success underneath the rim against an undersized Pitt frontcourt and attacked the basket to preserve the Orange lead into halftime. Guerrier led all scorers after 20 minutes with 12 points while Dolezaj followed close behind with 11 points. The Orange scored 20 points in the paint during the first half.
Pitt did take the lead for 3:52 of the half after a mixture of Orange weaknesses flared up again. The Panthers out-rebounded the Orange 21-18 and grabbed seven offensive rebounds, which led to eight second chance points. Syracuse also fell back into bad shot selection habits on the offensive end as mid-and-long range shots were wildly inconsistent. The Orange only shot 1-of-10 from three in the first half, with Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim only scoring six points between the pair during the first 20 minutes.
However, the second half meant that Champagnie had all the time he needed to get back into basketball shape. He scored eight of Pitt’s first 15 points to start the half and looked much more comfortable attacking the Syracuse zone. The Orange, meanwhile, looked sloppy with four turnovers out of the locker room.
While Syracuse was cold to start to start the second half, Pittsburgh was red hot from the floor. The Panthers were 10-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-3 from three during the first six minutes of the second half. The zone started to collapse which allowed Ithiel Horton to heat up from three and for Champagnie to dominate the glass.
Pittsburgh stayed hot from the floor throughout the entire second half with Syracuse couldn’t buy a basket. Four Panthers finished the game in double figures with Champagnie, Horton, and Xavier Johnson scoring over 20 points with the Panthers shooting 57.9% from the floor in the second half. Syracuse, meanwhile, struggled with a 38.9% shooting performance after the half. The Orange were ice cold from three, sinking only three shots from range on 22 attempts in the game for 13.6%.
Shot selection was once again an issue, as the Orange settled for more mid-range and three balls on offensive without going to the rim. Syracuse has a bad tendency to go away from its strengthens, and that was evident with the lack of touches that Syracuse players got underneath the rim.
Quietly, Alan Griffin had a good game with 28 points and seven rebounds. Guerrier finished with a double-double, scoring 18 points and 12 rebounds. Dolezaj only scored three points in the second half as he got into foul trouble.
It’s incredible how both teams looked so different coming out of the locker room. The Orange didn’t take high-quality shots while the Panthers seemed to find easy looks everywhere around the zone. Giving up over 90 points puts a stamp on defensive issues with the zone, but the Orange offensive struggles need to be addressed immediately.