PITTSBURGH – Twice, Syracuse had a chance to take the lead against Pitt Monday night.
And twice, Pitt responded with a big play on the defensive end that resulted in points offensively. Both of those times, Pitt small forward Gilbert Brown was involved.
“I think that’s one of the most important things about this team,” Brown said. “Through adversity and hard times we stay together and we push through.”
After a bizarre first half — in which Pitt and Syracuse went on 19-0 and 17-0 runs, respectively, to start the game – the Panthers and Orange found themselves separated by just four points at halftime. In the second half, the close play continued.
Pitt led by just one point, 37-36, when Syracuse had a chance to take its first lead of the game. However, Orange guard Brandon Triche missed a layup that rolled around the rim and in to Brown’s hands. He quickly moved the ball down the court and guard Ashton Gibbs hit a jumper to extend the Pitt lead to 39-36.
Later with 12:41 left and Pitt leading 44-43, Panthers forward Talib Zanna turned the ball over to Syracuse forward Rick Jackson, who passed to guard Dion Waiters in transition. Zanna refused to give up on the play and blocked Waiters’ layup from behind.
Pitt guard Travon Woodall quickly grabbed the rebound, ran the floor and dished it to Brown, who threw down for a 46-43 lead. It was the start of a 7-0 run that effectively put Syracuse out of the game.
“That one play right there really sparked us,” Brown said of Zanna’s block. “It lit a match under us and we really caught fire on the offensive end. It really changed the momentum of the game.”
Syracuse eventually cut the Pitt lead back down to four with 7:03 to play, but Pitt ripped off an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 65-53. Both teams traded possessions with little change to scoring margin the rest of the way, and Pitt improved to 9-0 all time against top 5 opponents at the Petersen Events Center.
“The second half, we really attacked (Syracuse’s zone) better,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “That’s where we got some more penetration.”
Runs of 7-0 and 8-0 are commonplace in college basketball. However, the types of runs that started the game are not.
Pitt opened the game with a 19-0 run in the opening 7:48, forcing Syracuse to burn two timeouts. Panthers forward Nasir Robinson scored 9 consecutive points to open the game. He led all scorers on the night with 21 points.
“Coach preached to me all week in preparing for this game to get catches in the middle so we could work out of that, so I could find our perimeter shooters,” Robinson said. “That’s what I did.”
Whatever was said in Syracuse’s second timeout worked for the Orange, as they answered with a 17-0 run to pull within 2 with 6:03 remaining in the first half.
It was, by all accounts, one of the more bizarre opening halves of basketball a coach, player or fan could witness.
“It’s probably the first time in my career that we’ve gotten off to a start like that,” Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker said. “But it was great because we got the fans in to it, our adrenaline was pumping.
“Syracuse is a great team, they made their run. But we stuck to it throughout the game.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog