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Three takeaways from Syracuse basketball’s 84-82 loss to Pittsburgh

Syracuse fell to 8-5 on the season and 1-1 in conference play after a home loss to Pittsburgh.

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

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team certainly knows how to make things interesting. After trailing by double-digits for most of the game, Syracuse nearly mounted a comeback with two chances to take the lead late but ultimately fell to the Pittsburgh Panthers 84-82 on Tuesday night.

Trailing by one with less than 30 seconds left, an errant entry pass to Jesse Edwards was intercepted. Then, after fouling and a split pair of Pittsburgh free throws, a last second three point attempt from Judah Mintz failed to drop as Syracuse lost for the first time in six games.

Pittsburgh was able to dissect the Orange 2-3 zone in the first half, jumping out to a 41-33 lead at the break. The Syracuse seniors were limited in the first as Jesse Edwards wasn’t able to get paint touches down low. Joe Girard drew the unenviable assignment of trying to score against Jamarius Burton and had just three points at the half.

In the second, Syracuse trailed by 13 with over five minutes to go. A 15-4 run got the game to 83-82 with 30 seconds left, but the Orange weren’t able to regain the lead.

It’s a hard ask for Edwards to anchor the press when playing through foul trouble, but the senior big managed to play with four fouls before fouling out on the penultimate offensive play for Syracuse. Girard wasn’t given much room, but he found enough space to get his shot off and finished with 16 points. Mintz tied a career-high 24 points but needed 17 shots to get there. The freshman shot 8-12 from the line. The defense was the most glaring issue for Syracuse, but the half-court offense, especially in the first half, lacked.

Sideline guests of Josh Allen, Gabe David and Stefon Diggs were in attendance.

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

To the takeaways.

Zoning laws

It’s not entirely surprising that 48.9% of opponent shot attempts are coming from outside against Syracuse. The Orange was about average in terms of three point percentage defense (31.9%) coming into the night, but there was nothing average about Syracuse’s defense against Pittsburgh.

Syracuse stuck to its modus operandi and Pittsburgh came in well prepared with proper spacing, drilling 8-19 from outside in the first half. The zone was a step slow and rotation late for much of the night. Nelly Cummings saw this as an invitation and he was more than happy to play along, shooting 6-11 from deep on the game.

Pittsburgh shot 28-60 (46.7%) on the night and 13-32 (40.6%) from three even with a late scoring drought. The Panthers outrebounded the Orange 44-35. Syracuse won the turnovers battle 16-9, but those kinds of shooting percentages from opponents won’t get it done defensively.

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

Seldom used freshmen step up

Syracuse went deep into its bench in this game as a pair of infrequently used freshmen stepped up. Maliq Brown was a steady force on the glass in the first half when Syracuse desperately needed rebounding production to help Edwards. The starting forwards, meanwhile, combined for one rebound in 26 minutes. Brown is proving to be worth his salt on the glass. He finished with six points, nine rebounds and three assists to go with one steal and one block.

“We just had no effort from our forwards from the beginning,” Jim Boeheim said. “It’s hard to watch.”

Quadir Copeland didn’t see much meaningful action until late in the second half. He was instrumental in the Orange comeback attempt, blocking shots, instigating defensive havoc, getting on the offensive glass and even completing a four point play. He had ten points, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal in just a dozen minutes.

“Q is six-four. He came in and got six rebounds in 12 minutes. Benny and Chris got one rebound between the two of them,” an anguished Boeheim said.

Syracuse still searching

Usually by the start of conference play Boeheim has his rotation of trusted players set. That number typically levels at seven or eight. Against Pittsburgh, Syracuse went ten deep and played five different players at forward. At times, it appears as if Boeheim is desperate to find a player who will take the opportunity and run with it. Such is life coaching freshmen, a problem Syracuse brought upon itself.

Boeheim even went to the press early, starting at 2:20 in the first half and he utilized a defensive, non-shooting lineup with Mintz, Symir Torrence, Copeland, Brown and Mounir Hima at one point. We know Syracuse is going to hang its hat on Girard, Mintz and Edwards. Who can consistently step up on a nightly basis beyond that three?

Syracuse has guys to go deep, but the experience, talent and skill gap between guys four and ten isn’t all that wide. It just might be a different guy on different nights, depending on opponent, who’s giving effort and who’s not. Conference play is here and Syracuse is still trying to see what sticks.