Nasir Robinson scored 21 points, and Brad Wanamaker added 15 points as No. 4 Pittsburgh handed No. 3 Syracuse its first loss with a 74-66 win.
The contest was a game of runs, as Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0 Big East) raced out to a 19-0 lead. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) had a 17-0 run of its own and eventually tied the game at 41 with 13:46 left.
But the Panthers responded right away with a 9-3 run of its own, aided by five Wanamaker points. Pittsburgh held at least a five point lead the rest of the game.
“We got off to a horrible start, and Pitt got off to a great start,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Pitt’s probably the best team we’ve played.”
Syracuse was without starting forward and leading scorer Kris Joseph, who missed the game due to a concussion after slamming his head on the floor in Saturday’s game against Cincinnati.
“You play with what you have,” Boeheim said. “Injuries happen.”
Sophomore James Southerland started in Joseph’s position, but it was CJ Fair, who provided a spark for Syracuse in Joseph’s place.
The freshman scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead Syracuse.
“I know I did my best to get easy buckets,” Fair said. “They’re a hard defensive team. I just tried to go up strong.”
Pittsburgh seemed unfazed by Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Orange had come into the game allowing just 59.3 points per game while holding opponents to 36.8 percent shooting from the field.
The Panthers attacked the zone, as Robinson – who averages just 7.5 points per game – shredded Syracuse’s zone to the tune of nine points during the Panthers’ original 19-0 run to begin the game.
The Orange allowed Pittsburgh to shoot 48 percent from the field while Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 41-27.
“It was our defense,” guard Scoop Jardine said. “We allowed them to get in the lane. They weren’t hitting 3s or anything. They bullied us in the paint.”
Meanwhile, SU was cold on the offensive end, missing its first 10 shots.
“We were missing easy shots,” Jardine said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
But Syracuse was able to get back in the game thanks to its own 17-0 run. Jardine started it with a 3-pointer with 11:59 left in the half.
The Orange defense finally asserted itself, holding Pitt scoreless for more than six minutes.
“We got right back in it,” Jardine said. “We were right there.”
Right there, but not close enough.
“We had a long way to come from back from the beginning,” Boeheim said. “That’s as good a Pitt team as I’ve seen.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor in Chief for The Juice Online.Wesley Cheng