Wow. I’m not even sure where to begin for the battle between Syracuse and Pittsburgh last night at the Pete. From the agonizing first 8 minutes of the game, to the shocking next six minutes, the back and forth battle over the next twenty minutes, to the final minutes where Pittsburgh at last pulled away from a gutty Syracuse effort, it was a game unlike any I have ever watched in my life.
Coming in, it was billed as the battle between the two Big East heavyweights, with unbeaten Syracuse coming into Pittsburgh to face the once-defeated Panthers in their building, a place Syracuse has almost never seen success in. With star forward Kris Joseph out because of a head injury sustained Saturday against Cincinnati, the outcome looked bleak for my Orange. After the first five minutes, when Pittsburgh had raced out an 11-0 lead, I was in shock. The Panthers were absolutely shredding the zone, and their pesky play on defense was causing havoc on the Orange. Three minutes later, when the lead had ballooned to 19-0, I was speechless. A team ranked number three in the country doesn’t get embarrassed like that. I don’t care if their best player is out, and its a road game. That just DOESN’T happen in sports, and yet there I was, reading a scoreboard that read 19-0. Even Jim Boeheim looked like he didn’t know how it had possibly happened.
Then, something almost equally stunning happened: in a matter of minutes, Syracuse worked its way back into the game, courtesy of a SEVENTEEN TO ZERO run on the Panthers! My feelings of revulsion had suddenly turned to cheers and incredulation. Even more stunning was how and who brought the Orange back into the game. It wasn’t the leaders, Rick Jackson or Scoop Jardine. Instead, freshmen C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters put the struggling Orange on their shoulders and started attacking the Pitt defense. They started crashing the boards and ripping the ball away from the bigger, stronger Panthers. And just like that, it was 19-17. Brand. New. Ballgame.
Through most of the second half, it was an outstanding game. The teams battled back and forth, trading baskets, tough defense, and physical pounding down low. Fair continued his outstanding play, staying in the entire second half and continuing to keep the Orange in the game. Rick Jackson stepped up, neutralizing Nasir Robinson and Gary McGhee for parts of the second half. Scoop Jardine knocked down a handful of three point shots, yet, Syracuse just couldn’t take the lead. They got it down to a point a few times, but never were able to overtake the Panthers.
Eventually, Pittsburgh took a comfortable lead. They got a few steals, Ashton Gibbs hit a couple clutch shots and with a few minutes to play, the result of the game was no longer in doubt. However, this young team can take a lot away from this game. A lot of teams would have undoubtedly quit after being down 19-0, missing their best player, and playing in one of the most difficult buildings in the country. However, Syracuse did anything but quit. They played their hearts out down to the final second, with substitute players stepping up their games in Joseph’s absence. If nothing else, this will better prepare the team for later in the season. If players should get into foul trouble, or find themselves down by ten at halftime, they can draw on this game and realize they are NEVER out of a game.
With more tough Big East games ahead, though, it’s time to regain the winning ways, and see if in a few weeks, we can still contend for the Big East title. With Villanova coming up in a few days, and then Mr. Kemba Walker (oh, and the rest of the UConn team too) on the schedule in two weeks, life isn’t going to get any easier for the Orange in the meantime.
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Written by Curt Bell