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Pittsburgh 84, Syracuse 82: Second-half comeback falls short as Orange drop to 8-5

Close, but ultimately no cigar.

Pittsburgh v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Where there was a will, there was somehow a way for the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team to come back down 20 points in the second half to the Pittsburgh Panthers.

But ultimately, the Orange’s poor outside shooting and inconsistent defense made the deficit too big to overcome, with Syracuse falling 84-82 to Pittsburgh and dropping to 1-1 in ACC play.

Entering Tuesday night’s game, the Orange (8-4, 1-0) looked to secure its sixth-straight win in a row and second ACC victory after wrapping up nonconference play on Saturday versus Cornell. On the other side, Pittsburgh (8-4, 1-0) looked to earn its third-straight win and its second-straight road victory versus the ACC after defeating NC State 68-60 on December 2nd.

Both teams traded baskets to begin the first half, with Pittsburgh looking to attack the Orange’s 2-3 zone, while Syracuse focused on getting Judah Mintz and Jesse Edwards involved early. The Orange shot 5/8 from the field out of the gate, taking an early lead thanks to this Mintz and-one finish:

A quick 16-2 scoring run gave the Panthers an early 23-12 lead, with Pittsburgh’s ball movement doing an efficient job of kicking to shooters or finding a cutter inside. Coach Boeheim quickly substituted Symir Torrence and Maliq Brown into the game to give the Orange more size down low. Even then, Pittsburgh was still over 52% from the field and 5/12 from three after 10 minutes of play.

Despite Syracuse’s defensive struggles, Brown’s defensive effort and rebounding plus Justin Taylor’s off-the-dribble creation kept the Orange at an arm’s distance from the Panthers with just six minutes left in the first half.

Even with semi-poor shooting in the first half (especially from three, where the Orange were just 1/12), Syracuse was able to attack the rim and get out in transition enough to keep things close. A late Torrence contested runner put the Orange to within eight points, trailing at the half 41-33 to Pitt.

Mintz and Edwards combined for 15 of the Orange’s 33 first-half points, while Taylor and Torrence each chipped in two baskets off Syracuse’s bench. Girard was a non-factor to begin the game, going 0/3 with two assists and three turnovers in 15 first-half minutes. For Pittsburgh, an 8/19 team performance from downtown jolted the Panthers’ offense in the first half. Pittsburgh’s Nelly Cummings (14 points, 4/7 from three) and Blake Hinson (11 points and 5 rebounds) led the way for the Panthers.

The Panthers’ offense picked up right where it left off to begin the second half, extending its lead to 14 points just two minutes into the half and going up as much as 20 points (72-52 with 10 minutes remaining). Edwards dealt with early foul trouble, forcing coach Boeheim to put Mounir Hima into the game for over half of the second half.

After halftime, Syracuse’s performance turned into a case of “sparks, but no fire.”

On the one hand, the Orange got great production from its bench contributors, especially Brown and Quadir Copeland, who both impressed with their defensive energy at moments during the second half. Girard also got (somewhat) going, chipping in 8 points in the half’s first 9 minutes while Mintz played consistently on both sides of the floor.

However, just when Syracuse made back-to-back momentum-swinging plays, Pittsburgh answered back with a back-breaking three or a tough shot of some kind. On the flip side, the Orange struggled throughout the night to string together a concrete scoring run that could put the team in a realistic position to come back.

At least, until there were nine minutes to go in the second half.

Syracuse cut a 20-point deficit down to as low as 7 points with under five minutes left, with the offense running almost entirely through Mintz’s ability to attack the rim and draw contact. This Copeland three-pointer brought the Orange to trailing by single digits for the first time since the opening minutes of the first half.

Back-to-back tough buckets by Girard and an improved fullcourt press attack by Syracuse cut Pittsburgh’s lead down to just two points, 84-82, with 6.0 seconds left to go and the Orange with the ball.

Mintz pulled up... and it fell right in front of the rim. Ballgame.

Despite its second-half surge, Syracuse struggled throughout the night with Pittsburgh’s ball movement, which led to the Orange’s 2-3 zone imploding from the inside out. Pitt’s dribble penetration led to a 13/32 (41%) performance from three and 20 assists on 28 made Panthers’ baskets.

Mintz led the Orange with a team-high 24 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Girard (16 points, 3/8 from three) allowed Syracuse to make things interesting. Copeland surprised with 10 points on 4/5 shooting off the bench, while Brown (6 points on 3/6 shooting) looked great during his minutes. Despite the low-point total, Edwards tallied 8 points, 9 rebounds, and six blocks in 33 minutes. In total, Syracuse shot 6/24 from three in the losing effort.

Syracuse will look to get back on track on New Year’s Eve, when the Orange will host Boston College (6-6, 0-1).