Late rally propels Syracuse past Pittsburgh

After leading for most of the day, #2 Syracuse needed to close the game with a 10-2 run to pull out a hard-fought 59-54 win over #22 Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome. The comeback preserved the pristine record of the Orange, moving them to 18-0 on the season, and propelled them into sole possession of first place in the ACC at 5-0. The Panthers, who dropped to 16-2 overall and 4-1 in conference play, hurt themselves by making only 13-of-23 free throws on the day.

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Ennis provided a last boost for Syracuse

SU shot the ball rather well on the day, connecting on 51.2 percent of their field goal tries, including a 60 percent (12-of-20) success rate after halftime. The Orange defense was also in fine form, holding Pitt to 38.3 percent shooting from the floor.

The Panthers, however, hung around by dominating the boards. The visitors held a 35-24 rebounding advantage, including chasing down 16 of their own misses.

Pittsburgh owned the opening minutes, jumping out to a 7-2 lead less then three minutes into the game. SU was quick to retaliate, though, posting the next seven points of the game to grab their first lead of the day.

Pittsburgh came right back with a pair of jumpers to retake a two-point lead, but after each team added a free throw, the Orange posted another 7-0 run. The burst pushed Syracuse out to a 17-12 lead with just under nine minutes left in the opening half.

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A Pitt three brought them back within a deuce, but the possession after a C.J. Fair layup, Jerami Grant followed up a miss with a one-handed putback dunk that brought the Carrier Dome faithful to their feet and SU to a 21-15 advantage. The SU offense went into the cooler from there, mustering only one basket and a pair of free throws in the final six minutes before halftime, but it was enough to give them a 25-21 lead at the break.

After Pitt climbed back within a field goal twice in the opening moments of the second half, Syracuse ran off their third stretch of seven straight points on the day. This one boosted their lead to 34-25 less than four minutes into the second session. Tyler Ennis buried a long three-pointer on the next Orange possession and that stretched the margin to ten points, the largest lead of the day.

The Panthers responded with a 9-2 run to slice the gap to 39-36. After each team posted a pair of matching scores, Fair completed a three-point play off a left-handed drive to the bucket. His free throw pushed the Syracuse lead to 46-40 with just over nine minutes to play.

Pittsburgh scored the game’s next six points to wipe out the SU lead, then made it a 12-3 run overall to take a 52-49 advantage with under five minutes on the clock. After a pair of Grant free throws pulled the Orange within one, Ennis took over the game.

The freshman point guard used a deft pass fake to open a crease in the Panther defense, then drove to the bucket for a smooth left-handed lay-in that put SU back in front at 53-52. After the Panthers failed to connect on a pair of threes on their next trip, Ennis again broke down their defense and dropped in a left-handed lay-up to extend the Syracuse lead to three.

The Panthers missed a game-tying trey, but a foul in the rebounding action gave them two free throws. After both shots went through the net, the Orange lead was narrowed to 55-54 with under five ticks left. After the inbound pass, Ennis was fouled, then added to the Pitt misery, making both shots to again make it a three-point lead.

SU fouled after the inbounds pass and after Pitt missed both tries from the line, Rakeem Christmas was fouled while after grabbing the rebound. Christmas dropped in both charity shots to ice the win.

Tyler Ennis finished the game with 16 points to lead the Orange. C.J. Fair chipped in with 13 points while Jerami Grant added a dozen. Rakeem Christmas was the fourth SU player to crack double figures, chipping in ten points. Both Christmas and Fair were impact players on the defensive end, as well, finishing with three blocked shots apiece.

Pittsburgh only had two players reach double figures. Lamar Patterson posted a game-high 18 points, doing most of his work from deep, as he hit four three-point shots. Talib Zanna backed him up with 12 points and also grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double.

SU has a break in their schedule, as they do not play until next Saturday, when they travel south to finish a home-and-home series with Miami (Fla.). The Hurricanes (10-7, 2-3) who slowed down the Orange in their trip north two weeks ago, but still fell at the Dome, 49-44, have won two of their three contests since the first matchup. C.J. Fair scored 15 points to lead all scorers in that game and each Syracuse guard chipped in with double figure scoring, Trevor Cooney with 11 points and Tyler Ennis with ten.

Rion Brown is the lone double-figure scorer on the season for Miami, who plays a slowdown style and employed a 2-3 zone that gave SU fits in their first matchup. Brown posts just over 14 points per outing and Donnavan Kirk and Garrius Adams average just under ten points per game.

Tip-off is slated for 1:00pm Eastern and CBS will televise the contest.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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