Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright and Syracuse forward C.J. Fair battle for a loose ball during the first half at …
Anyone still wondering whether Pittsburgh was for real prior to Saturday's challenge at undefeated Syracuse likely walked away from the game believing the Panthers are among the nation's best teams.
While Pitt couldn't pull off the upset and couldn't put the ball in the basket in the final minutes of a 59-54 loss, it more than proved it has the capability to play with anyone and could go deep into March.
It certainly left a big impression on Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
"This was a Big East game," Boeheim said on his postgame television interview with ESPN. "That's all this was. Forget about ACC. This was a war down there."
No. 2 Syracuse is an obvious contender for the ACC and national titles and proved it once again with a monster defensive effort down the stretch. But the fact that Pitt failed to score a field goal in the final 6 minutes (0-for-8) and only hit five free throws in that time and still lost by just five points on the road should give the Panthers even more confidence once they're done kicking themselves.
There is a reason Pitt went into the game with 16 wins and only one loss but ranked just 22nd in the nation. While it has faced plenty of competition from major conferences to establish its gaudy record, it had little in the way of quality wins. But after the way the Panthers played Saturday, aside from its offense down the stretch, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see them move up in the rankings and begin to receive a little more national respect.
Pitt twice fell behind by nine in the second half only to battle back> Guard Lamar Patterson led the way with 18 points, but even he couldn't get the ball in the net late.
Syracuse (18-0, 5-0) made enough plays to win in a gritty effort with only seven players getting on the court. Three starters, C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis, played all 40 minutes.
The Orange were outrebounded by 11 and attempted six fewer shots (more reasons why Pitt will be pulling its hair over this one) and still managed to win thanks to 51 percent shooting.
These teams will collide again at Pitt on Feb. 12. We're already looking forward to it.
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