With Trevor Cooney limited by back stiffness and Tyler Roberson looking like he went at least eight rounds following an accidental elbow to the head, Syracuse once again just did not have enough to win a game. This time, their late rally did not have enough and they fell to Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome, 65-61. The win gave the Panthers (18-10, 7-7 ACC) a boost in their hopes of snagging an NCAA Tournament berth and the loss gave the Orange (17-10, 8-6) another game to put in their ever-growing “what if” pile.
While both Cooney and Roberson headed to the locker room at different times for their respective health issues, only the latter was truly able to contribute to the Syracuse cause. Cooney went scoreless in the game, missing all five of his field goal attempts. Compounding the problem was Kaleb Joseph matching Cooney’s 0-for-5 performance from the floor.
SU dominated the boards, having a 35-22 advantage in large part by gathering 15 offensive rebounds. That total was literally half the rebound opportunities on that end of the floor. However, the Orange could not overcome forcing only seven turnovers in the game or making only 28 percent (7-for-25, including 0-for-6 on three-pointers) from the field in the first half.
Syracuse got on the board just under two minutes into the game when Michael Gbinije fed Tyler Roberson, who finished through traffic for a lay-up, but that would be the only Orange field goal for almost the first eight minutes of action. While SU was able to tack on three free throws in that span, they still trailed, 10-5, when Gbinije dropped in a lefty lay-up to break the dry spell.
The Panthers responded with a trey to stretch their lead out to a half dozen. Syracuse struck back when Rakeem Christmas powered inside for a lay-up and Roberson connected on a pair from the stripe to make it a 13-11 game.
On the next Orange possession, Roberson took an accidental elbow above his left eye in the rebounding action and went to the floor. Pitt took advantage of playing 5-on-4, scoring to push their lead to four points before the officials stopped the game at the midpoint of the first half so Roberson could get medical attention.
After the Panthers tacked on another score to stretch their lead to six points again, the SU zone clamped down, holding them without a score for the next five minutes. Meanwhile, the Orange offense clawed back into the game, scoring the next ten points.
B.J. Johnson made a pair of free throws to start the streak. Following a missed Panther lay-up, Christmas made a long outlet pass that Gbinije brought in and transformed into a lay-up on the other end. Ron Patterson added another lay-in that knotted the score at 17, then Gbinije and Christmas each added a pair of foul shots to finish the run and give Syracuse a four-point lead.
Pitt broke out of their slump with a three-pointer, but the Orange struck right back when Gbinije fed a cutting Patterson for a back-door lay-up. The Panthers rolled up eight straight points to regain control, using a pair of long-range bombs to close the run and hold a 28-23 lead.
Gbinije got a floater to roll through the net to cut the margin to three, but Pitt’s Jamel Artis beat the buzzer with a three-pointer that was true, giving the Panthers a 31-25 lead.
The Panthers added scores on each of their first two possessions of the second half to take the first double-digit lead of the day, but Christmas threw down the business end of an alley-oop from Joseph, then coaxed a driving lay-up through the rim to pull SU within six once more. After a Pitt score, Roberson tipped in a Joseph miss and Christmas softly dunked off a pass from Roberson to make it a 37-33 game with less than four minutes off the clock.
Pittsburgh would score on two straight trips to make their lead eight, but Ron Patterson hit a three-ball late in the shot clock and Christmas scored inside once more. The center’s lay-up drew the Orange within 41-38.
Pitt responded by stepping on the gas, outscoring Syracuse by a 10-2 margin in just over two minutes for a 51-40 lead with just under nine minutes to play. After each team scored close to the bucket, Johnson canned a pair of three-pointers to draw the Carrier Dome crowd into the game with the Orange down, 53-48.
The Panthers took advantage of an SU dry spell, though, getting a pair of scores around an SU free throw to stretch the lead to 57-49. With a little over three minutes left, Christmas broke through for a score, but a Pitt three-pointer made it a 60-51 game with two-and-a-half to play.
Syracuse came back by scoring on three straight possessions, aided by their full-court press. After Gbinije made a pair from the line out of the final media timeout, the Orange went to their pressure defense. It led to a turnover, which SU converted into a Roberson jump shot. After the defense held once more, Christmas scored again, slicing the Pitt lead to 60-57 with just over a minute left.
Following the Panthers making only the front end of a one-and-one at the charity stripe, the Orange hustled downcourt and Johnson buried his third trey in less than seven minutes. This one made it 61-60 in favor of the Panthers with under a minute to play.
Following a Pitt miss, Syracuse had a chance to take the lead, but Christmas was called for an illegal screen outside the three-point-line, giving the ball back to the Panthers.
Johnson, however, would be whistled for a foul on the ensuing Pittsburgh possession and James Robinson, the Panthers’ best free throw shooter, stuck both shots for a 63-60 lead.
Gbinije drew a foul on the ensuing SU trip, but made only the second shot. With the Orange trying not to foul Robinson, Pitt was able to break the press and get a lay-up to go up by four points.
Roberson would get off a lay-up for SU, but it rolled off the rim and into the Panthers’ possession. With just a couple seconds on the clock, Syracuse opted not to foul, allowing time to run out.
Rakeem Christmas led all players with 20 points and 12 rebounds in the game. Michael Gbinije had another well-rounded game, contributing 12 points, seven boards, and a half dozen assists. B.J. Johnson hit three triples for most of his 11 points while Ron Patterson and Tyler Roberson each added nine points for SU.
Chris Jones paced the Panthers with 19 points off the bench after having 15 in a reserve role when the teams met up in Pittsburgh. Jamel Artis had 16 points and Michael Young was the third Pitt player to reach double figures, finishing with 14 points.
The Orange will close their schedule with three of their final four games on the road, the first coming on Tuesday when they visit #10 Notre Dame. The second-place Fighting Irish (24-4, 12-3) have won three of their last four games, including pulling away in the second half for an 87-70 win at Boston College on Saturday where they made 66 percent of their field goals.
In addition to shooting over 51 percent from the field on the season, the Irish are lethal from three-point range, as they have made over 40 percent of their tries from behind the arc on the season. Notre Dame is also quite impressive in numbers of triples made, as five of their players have made at least 39 three-pointers this season, led by Pat Connaughton’s 75. Jerian Grant is the engine that makes the Irish go, leading the team with per-game averages of 17.0 points, 6.5 assists, and 1.9 steals.
The game will tip off at 8:00pm Eastern and the contest will be televised on the ACC Network, so please check your local listings. In addition, the telecast can also be streamed at ESPN3.com.