Game Notes: Pitt at Syracuse
The Orange are undefeated no more.
by Rachel Stern
Does good offense beat good defense?
This question is debated constantly and on Saturday afternoon inside the Carrier Dome, good, tough defense prevailed, as unranked Pittsburgh handed No. 5 Syracuse their first loss of the season, 82-72.
Going into the game the Orange was the Big East’s best offensive team, averaging 87.7 points per game. Pittsburgh, known year after year for being a physical, defensive-minded team, was the conference’s best defensive team, limiting opponents to 55.9 points per game.
Although Syracuse managed to put up 72 points, they shot a dismal 7.7 percent from beyond the arc, connecting on just one of 13 attempts. Syracuse’s primary big men, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, were held to just 13 points combined and both fouled out.
Pittsburgh, playing for only the third time this season with their full squad, not only gave Syracuse fits with their aggressive, tough defense, but managed to hit 10 of 24 three’s. The Panthers’ offense, which struggled at times in the first half to get a good shot against the 2-3 zone, was led by the two-headed monster of Ashton Gibbs, who hit six of nine three-point attempts and scored 22 points and Jermaine Dixon, who put up a career-best 21 points.
The Panthers were able to handle a late Syracuse surge when the Orange started to press with 14:40 left in the game and the Panthers up by seven. After the full court press caused two consecutive Panther turnovers and energized the previously quiet crowd of 24,969, the Orange managed to cut the Panther lead to two with 11:08 to play.
But Gibbs answered three minutes later, as he hit a big three at the 8:49 mark and held his follow through, Love & Basketball-style, as he posed for his bench.
The Orange were never able to come back after the Gibbs three-and-pose put the Panthers up by 11.
Here are some notes I took throughout the day at the Dome.
About two hours before tip off former Syracuse star, Gerry McNamara, now a graduate assistant with the Orange, is putting on a show. GMac is putting up an array of trick shots, hitting two straight half-court shots. He shows his true touch when he hits a shot from behind the backboard. Manager turned walk-on, Nick Resavy, tries to match McNamara, but to no avail.
Mookie Jones, not known for passing up many shots, surprises no one when he takes the court 90 minutes before tip off to go through a series of shooting drills with assistant strength and conditioning coach Lazarus Sims. Jones’ first shot of the afternoon? A three pointer from about two feet behind the three-point arc.
Pittsburgh forward Brad Wanamaker stops to sign some autographs, as Pittsburgh has a decent amount of fans on hand.
Despite the fact that Syracuse students are still on vacation, the crowd is about seven deep behind the Syracuse basket as they warm up. The crowd gets loud as freshman James Southerland puts the ball between his legs and then throws it down.
The Carrier Dome crowd is on its feet, cheering until Syracuse gets on the board and luckily it doesn’t take long. After Pitt’s Dixon misses a three, Wesley Johnson comes back the other way and hits a jumper for the first points of the day.
With orange balloons floating around the stands, the Orange jet out to a 6-0 lead and an angry Jamie Dixon has had enough of watching his team pass the ball around the perimeter. He calls a timeout at the 17:10 mark.
Pitt gets a three by Dixon to cut the Syracuse lead to 9-7 with 14:30 to play, as both teams struggle on the offensive ends. Maybe it is the early tip off?
After a couple of missed shots and turnovers by the Panthers, Syracuse keeps trying to pound it inside and after an easy lay up by Onuaku, the Orange are up by 10 with 7:51 to play.
Pittsburgh starts to heat up however, and after a couple buckets and a deep three by Gibbs, Pitt is down 26-25 with 3:04 to play in the half. Gibbs is 4-6 from the field, all of his attempts coming from behind the arc.
The crowd gets loud when Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” plays during a timeout and the screen shows fans kissing one another. This could be the loudest the Dome has gotten all day.
Syracuse takes a 30-27 lead at the half.
Pitt has attempted 14 three-pointers, connecting on five of them. Only three Panthers—Dixon, Gibbs and Dante Taylor—have scored in the first half.
Onuaku leads the Orange with 9 points.
Pitt takes its first lead of the day, 34-32, when Gibbs hits a reverse lay up at the 18-minute mark.
After a series of missed Syracuse shots and a handful of fouls on the Orange, including an offensive foul on Onuaku, which is his third, Dixon hits a deep three and Pitt goes up 43-34 with 15:12 to play.
Coming out of a TV timeout, the Orange, down by seven, put on an aggressive full court press. The press causes two consecutive Pitt turnovers and the crowd erupts. With 11:33 left to play, the Pitt lead is cut to three.
After a Taylor put back and a Gibbs three, the air is taken out of the Dome, as the Panthers take an 11-point lead with 8:49 left to play.
With 1:34 left in the game and the Orange down by 12, Boeheim stands with his hands on his hips, shaking his head back and forth. Syracuse never makes their way back and fall 82-72 to the unranked Panthers.
Syracuse was called for 19-second half fouls and Pitt was called for 12.
Jim Boeheim on Pitt’s physical play—”They are a tremendous defensive team. They always have been, and you have to match the physical nature of how they’re playing. We did not do that and you’re not going to win that kind of game.”
Jamie Dixon on the big win—”We are a team that is improving. We had a lot of great performances but I cannot say enough about our effort. We have to continue to do that and continue to grow. We had to play well to beat a very good team. We had better attacks in the second half against the zone. We had better penetration and better shots and had some drives and kick outs and hit some shots. It was a process and we learned from our mistakes as the game went on.”
Gibbs on his Love & Basketball pose—“I was excited, it was one of the key points of the game and really gave us the momentum and I wanted to let my teammates know.”
Dixon scored a career-best 21 points, as he was 7-15 from the field.
Gibbs has hit 37 straight free throws for the Panthers, a school record. The previous record was 34, which had been intact for 50 years.