Syracuse lets big lead slip away in loss to Pittsburgh

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Jan 6, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers guard Femi Odukale (2) reaches for the ball controlled by Syracuse Orange forward Marek Dolezaj (21) during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In a game where each team was playing for the first time in at least two weeks, Pittsburgh dominated the last 11 minutes to pull out a 63-60 win at Syracuse. The Orange (6-2, 1-1 ACC) led 49-33 after a Kadary Richmond jump shot, but the Panthers (6-2, 2-1) went on a 24-8 run to knot the score with under two minutes to play, then scored the final six points to secure the victory.

Making Pitt’s come-from-behind victory even more impressive was that they were missing top scorer and rebounder Justin Champagnie due to injury and a handful of other players due to contact tracing for COVID. Pittsburgh dominated the glass in the second half, exploiting the foul trouble of SU’s Quincy Guerrier, owning a 28-11 advantage in rebounding in the session. The Panthers outrebounded Syracuse overall, 49-33, and owned a 21-3 advantage in second chance points.

The Orange made a dozen threes in the game, but went nearly 12 minutes without a triple in the second half, missing eight straight from deep when Pitt was climbing back into the game.

SU started off like they had not spent any time away from the court, jumping out to an 11-0 lead in under three minutes. Alan Griffin was sizzling, making threes from the right side on each of the first two possessions. Buddy Boeheim dropped in a triple in transition, then Griffin made a short shot just above the right block to finish the run.

Pitt came back with the next six points, but Syracuse responded with a 9-0 burst to take a 14-point lead. Quincy Guerrier canned a three from the right corner, then Marek Dolezaj spun into the lane for a leaning 12-footer while being fouled. Dolezaj added the free throw, then Boeheim made a trey from the left corner on an inbounds play for a 20-6 lead less than eight minutes into the action.

The Orange continued to grow their lead, stretching it to 18 points on two occasions, but Pittsburgh closed the half with the last three points, pulling within 32-18 at intermission. The Panthers roared out of the locker room with eight straight markers as part of a 13-3 run to open the second half. Less than four minutes into the second half, the margin was down to 35-31.

Robert Braswell came to the rescue for SU, hitting three triples in two minutes, all from the left wing. The barrage pushed the Syracuse lead to double digits once more at 44-33. Kadary Richmond and Joe Girard III tallied five more points to make it a 14-2 run and give the Orange a 49-33 lead with just over 11 minutes to play.

Pitt notched the next seven points to pull within nine. SU twice pushed the lead out to 11 points, but the guests finished a 13-2 run with nine straight points to tie the game at 57 a side with under two minutes to play.

Griffin pulled up for a three to put Syracuse in front once more, but that would be their final marker. The Panthers answered with a jump shot, then Au’diese Toney tipped in a miss for the first Pittsburgh lead of the game at 61-60 with 8.2 seconds to play.

The Orange advanced the ball into the frontcourt and called a timeout with 5.2 seconds to play, but the subsequent play was suffocated by Pitt’s defense. Dolezaj passed inbounds to avoid a five-second call, but the Panthers came up with possession. Girard fouled, but Xavier Johnson made two foul shots for a three-point lead. Griffin got the inbound pass and fired an attempt from beyond halfcourt, but it only drew iron.

Alan Griffin led all scorers with 15 points, making three triples, and topped Syracuse with eight rebounds and three steals. Robert Braswell was the only other Orange player in double digits, making four threes for his 12 points. Marek Dolezaj had nine points while Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III each had eight. The latter pair struggled to find the basket all day long, as Boeheim shot 3-for-12 and Girard 3-for-11.

Ithiel Horton paced Pittsburgh with 14 points, making four three-pointers in the game. Au’diese Toney rang up a double-double, finishing with a game-high 14 rebounds and 12 points. Xavier Johnson matched Toney’s 12 points. Femi Odukale added ten points while Terrell Brown added eight.

SU is scheduled to face a long-time rival on Saturday night when they host Georgetown. The Hoyas (3-7) have dropped their last four games, all in Big East play, including Wednesday night’s 63-55 loss to Butler in which Georgetown gave up the last ten points of the contest.

» Related: Syracuse returns to action after long COVID-19 pause

Three different players average double figures in scoring for the Hoyas, led by Jahvon Blair, who averages 18.2 points per game and has made 28 threes on the season. Qudus Wahab is a force inside, posting 12.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per outing. Jamorko Pickett (11.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game) and Donald Carey (9.7 points per game, 43.5 three-point percentage) round out the Hoyas’ top scorers.

Saturday night’s Syracuse-Georgetown contest will tip off at 8:00pm Eastern and be televised by ESPN2.

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About Jim Stechschulte 717 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.