Just when it looked like Pittsburgh would once again prove to be a thorn in the side of Syracuse Wednesday night, freshman point guard Tyler Ennis added another superlative to his season, pulling up and banging home a 35-footer to pull out a 58-56 SU win. Ennis’ buzzer-beater capped a 10-2 closing run for the top-ranked Orange, who trailed the majority of the game, and allowed them to escape with a win that moved them to 24-0 overall and 10-0 in the ACC. The 25th-ranked Panthers slid to 20-5 on the season and 8-4 in conference action.
Pitt had a five-game win streak over the Orange snapped and lost for the first time against a team ranked in the top five nationally in the Petersen Events Center, where they had previously won all nine such contests. The victory keeps Syracuse atop the conference standings with a half-game margin over Virginia.
SU was outplayed in many facets of the game, particularly in rebounding, where the hosts enjoyed a 35-24 advantage, including grabbing 16 offensive boards that they converted into 15 points. The Orange, however, held Pitt to 36 percent shooting in the game and made 16-of-19 free throws on a night when every point counted.
Two quick baskets put SU up, 8-6, less than six minutes into the game, but Pitt scored the next five points to regain the lead. After the Panthers nudged the lead out to four points, Syracuse used four free throws to knot the game at 14 a side just after the midpoint of the opening session.
Pittsburgh regained control with a three and a jumper, but Michael Gbinije knocked down a three to pull the Orange back within 19-17. The Panthers extended the lead to seven with 4:29 on the clock with another jumper and triple.
That three-ball would turn out to be the last field goal Pitt would make in the half as SU slowly rallied. SU used four free throws to crawl back within four, then Trevor Cooney connected from three on a nice kick-out pass from Jerami Grant to pull the Orange within 25-24. Pitt, however, would tack on two at the line for a 27-24 halftime lead.
After Tyler Ennis opened the second half scoring with two foul shots to bring Syracuse within one, Pitt ended their field goal drought at shortly over six minutes with another trey, this one putting them up 30-26. After that, the Panthers would stretch their lead to six on one possession where they got a basket and a foul, corralled the missed free throw, then scored again. Pitt tacked on a triple a couple possessions later to strengthen their lead to 37-28 just over five minutes out of the break.
The Orange, however, scored on their next three possessions. First, Cooney buried a three, then Ennis curled in a lay-up. After the SU defense forced a turnover, C.J. Fair scored in the lane off a nice pass from Ennis to close the gap to 37-35.
The Panthers responded with another three to end the SU run. Cooney and Ennis combined for three foul shots to get SU back within a deuce with just under 11 minutes showing on the clock.
Pitt would retake a five-point lead, but Syracuse wiped that out on a no-look pass from Ennis to Rakeem Christmas for an easy dunk and another three-pointer from Cooney. With the game tied at 45 with under seven minutes left, Pitt re-asserted themselves, getting a three-point-play and another pair at the line to again take a five-point lead.
Fair sliced that gap down to 50-48 with a three-point-play of his own, but another pair of Pittsburgh foul shots gave them a 52-48 lead with under five minutes to play. Neither team could score for a couple minutes until Talib Zanna corralled a badly missed three-point shot and laid it in for a Panther bucket and a six-point lead with 1:56 to play.
Fair responded on the next possession for SU, coming off a baseline screen to the right corner and burying an open three-pointer. Following a Panther miss, Fair turned a crossover dribble into a mid-range pull-up jumper from the left baseline. The swish brought the Orange within 54-53 with 51.8 seconds left in the game.
Pitt missed a pair of shots on the ensuing possession and, after securing the rebound, Cooney whipped an outlet pass to Ennis, who pushed the ball up the court and drew a foul on a lay-up. Ennis calmly swished both tries from the line, giving the Orange their first lead in a long time at 55-54 with 10.8 seconds to play.
Pitt brought the ball up and ended up with a deft inside pass for a lay-up, but Zanna was fouled by Christmas. Zanna rattled home the first foul shot, then swished the second to put the Panthers in front by a point with 4.4 seconds remaining.
Following a Pittsburgh time-out, Grant tossed an inbounds pass to Ennis, who headed up the court. Guarded by two players, Ennis changed hands on his dribble twice, then pulled up from 35 feet. The ball left his hand with a second showing on the clock, and went through the net just after the final horn, giving Syracuse the improbable win.
C.J. Fair topped SU on the scoresheet for the second straight game, this time finishing with 14 points, including ten after halftime. Tyler Ennis had 13 points, including ten after the break, while backcourt mate Trevor Cooney finished with 11, nine of which came from beyond the arc. With no other healthy centers available, Rakeem Christmas played a strong game, finishing with seven points, five rebounds, and three blocks. Michael Gbinije dropped in seven points off the bench, all in the first half to help keep the Orange afloat.
Talib Zanna was an absolute force for Pittsbugh, racking up 16 points and 14 rebounds, leading all players in both categories. Lamar Patterson was the only other Panther in double figures in scoring, adding 14 points.
Syracuse returns home on Saturday to face a hot North Carolina State team. The Wolfpack (16-8, 6-5) started slowly in ACC play, but have won five out of their last six to climb into a sixth-place tie in the conference.
T.J. Warren leads both the ‘Pack and the ACC in scoring, pouring in 23.1 points per game. Warren also leads NC State in rebounding (7.4 per game) and steals (1.6 per game). Three other players (Anthony Barber, Ralston Turner, and Desmond Lee) average just over ten points a game apiece for the Wolfpack.
The action will start at 3:00pm Eastern and be televised by the ACC Network, so please check your local listings. The game will also be available online at ESPN3.com or through the WatchESPN app.