Syracuse is the top shooting team in the nation. Its accuracy could receive a major test in the team’s first game of 2010.
The No. 5 Orange look to improve to 14-0 for the first time in 10 seasons Saturday when they host Pittsburgh in a Big East matchup.
Syracuse (13-0, 1-0) is shooting 54.7 percent from the field entering its first home conference game. The Orange, though, have lost three straight and 11 of 14 to Pittsburgh (11-2, 1-0), which has won four in a row at the Carrier Dome.
Although the Panthers return only one starter from last season’s 31-win team, they have limited opponents to 36.8 percent shooting. Syracuse tops the Big East in that department at 36.5 percent.
“We are making people miss shots,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “I’ve told our guys we can be a very good defensive team. But there’s improvement to be made.”
Syracuse is seeking its fourth 14-0 start under Jim Boeheim, also achieving the mark in 1979-80, 1986-87 and 1999-2000. The Orange relied on strong second-half defense to win their Big East opener, 80-73 at Seton Hall on Tuesday as they limited the Pirates to 29.0 percent shooting after the break.
“I told them that we had to get tough. We weren’t tough and we hadn’t had a tough game all year, at least not physical like this, you know, Big East tough,” Boeheim said. “It had to become more of a physical game and we weren’t being physical.”
Wesley Johnson had 20 points and 19 boards and Kris Joseph added 16 points for the Orange, who won their first 12 games by an average of 25.9 points.
“We weren’t playing the way we normally play,” Johnson said. “We were going through the motions and weren’t being aggressive. We really had to step up. I just had to calm down and do what is expected of me.”
The Panthers opened Big East play with a 65-52 win over DePaul on Monday as Ashton Gibbs scored 23 points. The schedule gets tougher for Pitt as it plays its next three on the road, with games against Cincinnati on Monday and No. 10 Connecticut on Jan. 13.
“This is a big stretch for us,” guard Jermaine Dixon said. “It’s an opportunity for us to show everyone where we are as a team. The Big East is a tough conference and everyone goes through tough stretches. But big games are why you come to a school like Pitt.”
The Panthers’ only matchup with a ranked team was a 78-62 loss to then-No. 3 Texas on Nov. 24. Gibbs was 2 of 13 from the floor and finished with eight points, and Pitt’s leading scorer is shooting only 41.2 percent on the season.
The Panthers are averaging 66.2 points, second worst in the Big East.
“We’re not close to where I think we can be,” Jamie Dixon said. “We have a lot of room to improve and I made that very clear to them.”