While their coach may not like talking about it, the Orange players candidly discussed another “we fell just short” chapter in the season of missed opportunities.
Although the Orange made a last minute charge against Pitt in front of the home crowd at the Carrier Dome, missed shots, turnovers and injuries to Trevor Cooney and Tyler Roberson stopped the Orange from building on the impressive victory against Louisville earlier in the week.
If the records held true, the Panthers and Orange should have played a fairly balanced contest, yet Syracuse fell behind early in the game’s first 20 minutes because of poor shooting and suspect defense and never was quite able to recover.
The Orange shot a miserable (7 of 25) 28 percent, including 0-6 from 3 point distance. Surprisingly, the Orange out-rebounded Pitt 23-10 in the first half.
“We made some plays and played hard,” reasoned Michael Gbinije, who, along with senior Rakeem Christmas, is the team’s leader. “But we also had some turnovers when people were open.”
The Orange improved its patented swarming zone defense and field goal percentage, however, Pitt never relinquished the lead.
After the Orange battled back in the game’s final minute, Gbinije and Christmas were the focal point of a controversial illegal screen, which, by all accounts, was SU’s last chance.
“It happened,” Gbinije said. “You can’t point your finger to that play.”
He added, “But it’s those types of things we can’t afford to make.”
It didn’t help that Cooney, who played 32 minutes with a stiff back, and backcourt mate Kaleb Joseph were held scoreless.
Gbinije, who was coming off the bench at the start of the season, is clearly SU’s main offensive threat not named Christmas. The junior transfer from Duke finished with 12 points and seven boards.
Christmas led the way with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
B.J. Johnson and Ron Patterson came off the bench to spark Syracuse with 11 and nine points, respectively. The duo combined to connect on 4-5 from behind the arc.
Pitt, with the second victory over the Orange this season, still has a post season dream. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are 18-10 on the season, including 7-7 in the ACC.
“This is always a tough place to play,” Dixon said afterwards. “We’re excited for our guys.”
Jim Boeheim’s club is now 17-10 and 8-6 in the ACC as the “banned” season winds down.
“We played as hard as you can ask a team to play,” Boeheim said. “We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. But the first half was bad.”
Christmas, who has played himself this year into the NBA draft chatter, reflected on the battle inside the paint, which in part, led to Roberson’s injury in the first half. Roberson was cut above the eye and missed nearly nine minutes before coming back, all stitched, with a minute remaining in the half.
“It was very physical out there,” Christmas said. “They are a very good team.”
Gbinije put the game in perspective.
“Facts are the facts. They just outplayed us,” he said. “Give them credit.”