At the end of their team's 65-55 victory over sixth-ranked Syracuse on Saturday afternoon, the triumphant Pittsburgh student section took one final parting shot at the Orange with a "This is our house" chant.
Indeed it is. And it's a house of horrors for top 10 foes.
In the 11-year history of the Petersen Events Center, the Panthers are now an astonishing 13-1 against top 10 foes. That run includes a pair of memorable victories over highly touted Syracuse squads, a 78-60 rout of the eighth-ranked Orange in Jan. 2009 and a 74-66 win over the third-ranked Orange in Jan. 2011.
The ramifications of Saturday's win are as significant as any of the previous ones.
A Pittsburgh team that stumbled to a 1-3 start in league play has since reeled off five wins in six games to reestablish itself as an upper-tier Big East team and ease concerns it could miss the NCAA tournament for a second straight season. The Panthers improved to 18-5 overall and 6-4 in the Big East with Saturday's win, their second over a Top 25 opponent this season.
Syracuse's second straight loss is good news for Marquette, Louisville and any other Big East rivals with league title aspirations. With the Orange (18-3, 6-2) falling back to the pack somewhat in the past eight days, Marquette is the lone Big East team with one league loss, and the Golden Eagles could very well suffer their second setback Sunday when they visit Louisville.
If Syracuse is going to bounce back from its current skid and reemerge as a Big East title threat, the Orange will have to do it at less than full strength. Jim Boeheim only had seven scholarship players at his disposal on Saturday with DaJuan Coleman sidelined the next four weeks with a knee injury and James Southerland out at least one more game as a result of academic issues before he can appeal to be reinstated.
Without Southerland and Coleman, the Pittsburgh bench outscored Syracuse's 31-3 and Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair both played 40 minutes apiece. The Orange also missed Southerland's outside shooting prowess, sinking just 3 of 14 attempts from behind the arc.
Credit Pittsburgh for taking advantage of Syracuse being shorthanded. Point guard Tray Woodall led a balanced attack with 13 points and forward Talib Zanna pulled down 12 rebounds as the Panthers overcame Syracuse's zone by dominating the offensive glass, feeding the high post and getting into the lane via dribble penetration.
Last year, an ineffective, injury-plagued Pittsburgh team dug itself too deep a hole to climb out of when it started 0-7 in Big East play.
There were concerns this season could follow a similar path when the Panthers opened with three losses in their first four league games, but now Pittsburgh is turning skeptics into believers.
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