For the second straight day, #19 Syracuse blistered the nets at Madison Square Garden in New York en route to advancing in their final appearance in the Big East Tournament, this time edging #17 Pittsburgh in Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup, 62-59. The Orange secured their 25th victory for the fifth consecutive season (against eight losses) behind a sizzling 12-of-19 shooting mark from behind the three-point line, led by James Southerland, who drilled all six of his tries from deep. SU used a pair of runs late in the first half to take a healthy halftime lead, then had to hold off a late rally from the Panthers (24-8) for the win.
The two teams traded the lead in the opening minutes of the game until consecutive scores put Syracuse in front, 10-6, just over six minutes into the game. Pittsburgh fought back to take the lead twice, including at 14-12 midway through the opening half. The Orange offense kicked into overdrive for the remainder of the half, as they made 11 of the 12 field goals they tried before halftime.
James Southerland and Brandon Triche combined to make the first six of those shots, including three treys, as SU ripped off a 15-1 run to seize a 27-15 lead with five minutes on the clock. The Panthers clawed back into the game, whittling the margin down to five, but Syracuse went on an 8-0 burst in the final 90 seconds of the half, capped by a C.J. Fair three-pointer that bounced up, then slid through the rim as the horn sounded. The favorable bounce gave the Orange a 40-27 halftime lead.
SU held off Pittsburgh for the first couple minutes of the second half, but a 7-1 run got the Panthers within 44-37 less than eight minutes into the session. A three-pointer gave Syracuse a little breathing room, but Pitt rang up six unanswered points to narrow the lead to 47-43 with under nine minutes to go. The Orange got a three and a basket, followed by another three shortly after to take a 55-47 lead with just over 5:30 on the clock.
The Panthers responded by chipping the margin down to four again, then used a three-point play to claw within 58-55 with 1:15 to go. Pittsburgh added on a putback to get within a single point with 32 seconds left. Michael Carter-Williams stuck a pair of free throws, then made a steal and ran off some precious seconds before getting fouled again. Carter-Williams drove home another set of free throws and the stake into the Panthers’ hearts with SU up, 62-57. The Panthers got a basket with two-tenths of a second to go, but the Orange inbounded the ball successfully to end the game.
For the second straight day, James Southerland paced the Orange with a game-high 20 points, and once again tallied 17 points in the first half. Southerland’s six three-point attempts without a miss set a Big East Tournament record for three-pointers in a game without a miss. C.J. Fair also shot well from outside, draining a personal best three triples as part of his 13 points. Brandon Triche reached double figures again with a dozen points while Michael Carter-Williams chipped in with 11 points, including the final seven for the Orange, and collected three steals.
By virtue of their win, Syracuse gets to take on #5 Georgetown on Friday for the second time in seven days and for the third time on the season. The top-seeded Hoyas (25-5) made their tournament debut after their double-bye by thumping Cincinnati on Thursday, 62-43. The Orange are looking for a little payback, as they were swept in the season series by their longtime rivals. Tip-off is set for 7:00pm and ESPN will air the game.