In defeating Pitt, Syracuse basketball takes sole possession of 4th in ACC

Elijah Hughes Boston College
Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes shoots. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Saturday afternoon, Syracuse gave up most, but not quite all, of a 20-point lead, holding on for a 69-61 home win over Pittsburgh. The Orange (13-7, 6-3 ACC) held a 30-10 lead with less than five minutes left in the opening half, but the Panthers (13-7, 4-5) drew within three points before fading in the final seconds. The win is the fifth consecutive for SU, who has climbed into sole possession of fourth place in the ACC after a rocky trip through non-conference play.

Both teams struggled on offense most of the day, particularly from long range, as they posted matching 5-for-21 marks from three-point distance, including Pitt missing their first nine from deep.

Syracuse made up for that shortcoming by outplaying their guests inside. The Orange owned a 39-33 rebounding advantage and outscored their guests in the paint, 36-28. That latter statistic is reflected on both teams’ shooting inside the arc. SU made 55.9 percent of their two-point field goals while the Panthers connected on just 48.5 percent of theirs.

With the score tied at five a side after five minutes in play, Syracuse was the first team to click on offense. The Orange rolled up a 23-4 run featuring stretches of seven, eight, and eight straight points.

Buddy Boeheim was the driving force, scoring 15 of SU’s 23 points in that span, including the final ten. The sophomore guard started things with a fadeaway jumper from the mid-post on the left side of the key. A couple possessions later, he capped the opening 7-0 run with a right wing three.

Marek Dolezaj and Quincy Guerrier each posted a three-point play after a Panther basket, then Boeheim added a lefty lay-up, forcing a Pitt timeout with the score 20-7 just after the midpoint of the opening half.

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The guests got a jump shot to stop that burst, but Boeheim added a pair of foul shots and two three-pointers from the right side to push the Syracuse lead to 28-9. Pitt added a foul shot, then Bourama Sidibe scored on a putback to make it a 20-point margin with under five minutes left in the first half.

The Orange offense went off the rails there and Pitt scored the next 11 points of the game. Joe Girard III got a left-handed lay-up high off the glass to drop in the final minute, snapping the Panther streak and giving SU a 32-21 halftime lead.

Syracuse kept Pittsburgh at a safe distance for the first dozen minutes out of the locker room. The guests climbed back within nine points on three different occasions in the opening minutes of the second half, but the Orange responded to each advance and eventually got five straight points from Guerrier to stretch the lead to 51-35 with a little over nine minutes to play.

Shortly after that, the Panthers needed just over five minutes of play to run off an 18-6 streak and pull within 59-56 with 2:45 remaining. Elijah Hughes responded for the Orange, driving down the key and finishing in traffic to push the lead to five.

Pitt answered with two free throws, but Dolezaj scored on a putback to make it a 63-58 game with 1:41 left. Each team failed on their next possession, but the Panthers got a lay-up on their following trip to narrow the deficit to 63-60 and called time out with 32.5 seconds to play.

SU dialed long distance as Hughes took a long lead pass the distance for a one-handed slam and a five-point lead with 28.3 seconds to go. Pittsburgh notched the first foul shot on their next possession, but Dolezaj rebounded the missed second attempt and was fouled with 16.8 seconds remaining. The junior cashed in on both his opportunities, pushing the lead to 67-61.

With Syracuse defense forcing Pitt to waste time, Girard made a crafty steal and dribbled out some additional seconds before being fouled. His two free throws with 5.1 ticks on the clock iced the game.

For the second straight Saturday, Buddy Boeheim scored 18 first-half points, this time finishing with 21 to lead all scorers. Marek Dolezaj posted 17 points, making all seven of his foul shots in the game. Quincy Guerrier and Elijah Hughes each added ten points, the former leading the Orange with eight rebounds and the latter swatting three shots.

Justin Champagnie topped Pittsburgh with 14 points and snagged a game-high nine rebounds. Terrell Brown chipped in with 11 points. Xavier Johnson added nine points while Ryan Murphy and Au’Diese Toney each had eight.

Syracuse will return to the road for their next game, a Tuesday night matchup with Clemson. The Tigers (10-9, 4-5) had won four of five entering Saturday’s game at #6 Louisville, but were drilled on the road, 80-62.

Clemson is led by forward Aamir Simms, who leads the team with 13.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 38.3 percent from three-point range. Tevin Mack is the only other Tiger averaging double figures, scoring 11.6 points per outing. Five different players have made at least 20 threes on the season for Clemson.

The Orange will look to tame the Tigers on Tuesday at 7:00pm Eastern and the game will be televised by regional sports networks.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 632 Articles
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.