Could it even be considered a trap game? Syracuse facing Pitt a trap game? Pittsburgh had won five straight at the Dome and eight of nine against the Orange. And yet, the Panthers came into the game losers of six straight and were winless in conference play. So yeah, it could’ve been considered a trap game. But the Orange didn’t fall for it and exploded out to a 13-0 lead before hanging on to win 71-63.
It was the Orange’s defense that helped them take a commanding lead, one they would never relinquish. The Orange had 8 steals and 11 blocks and held Pitt to under 40-percent shooting and under 33-percent in the first half. The run was also the result of excellent ball movement. Syracuse assisted on six of its first seven field goals on route to a 15-2 lead.
SU’s depth was a factor yet again, this time allowing them to swarm Pitt with a full court press. The Orange pressed five times and forced Pitt to turn it over four times and miss a 3-pointer.
But again, this is Pitt and no matter how bad their record is, they always fight. In the second half they did a much better job attacking the zone from the inside out. They hit the man in the post and fed it into the paint resulting in a layup drill. But Syracuse stayed poised as they have all season and when Pitt cut the lead to four points with under 9 minutes remaining, the Orange answered with a couple of 3-pointers from Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters to push the lead back to double digits. With Syracuse turning the ball over just 3 times in the second half and being uncharacteristically good at the foul line, Pitt was never allowed to gain much momentum.
Don’t look now but Syracuse actually isn’t such a bad free throw shooting team this season. They’re shooting 70-percent and if that were to hold up it would be the first time since 2000-01 that the Orange have shot 70-percent or better from the stripe. Last night, free throws were quite possibly the difference in this game. SU hit 20-of-23 and Pitt went 12-of-23. That’s an 8-point swing which ended up being the margin of victory.
Syracuse improves to a nice round 20-0 and more importantly 7-0 in conference play. The next test will come Saturday when Syracuse travels to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish.