Syracuse was among the best offensive teams in the nation as it cruised through non-conference play, but the Orange stumbled in their Big East home opener as their unbeaten start came to an end.
Perhaps stepping back out of conference will get Jim Boeheim’s team back on track.
The seventh-ranked Orange look to bounce back Wednesday night when they host a Memphis team that was dreadful offensively against the two ranked opponents it faced.
Syracuse (13-1) averaged 87.7 points and shot 54.7 percent - best in the country - in winning its first 13 games by an average of 24.5 points, with an 80-73 victory at Seton Hall in its Dec. 29 conference opener its only tight game.
The Orange found themselves in another close contest Saturday against Pittsburgh, but finally failed to come away with a win. Syracuse shot 42.4 percent from the field and was 1 of 13 on 3-pointers in an 82-72 loss.
“This is the first time that a team really came at us,” said forward Wesley Johnson, who led the Orange with 19 points. “We knew they were going to be physical. We just have to keep our composure. We just have to play through it. We didn’t do a good job of that today.”
Syracuse was outrebounded for the second game in a row against the physical Panthers, but the bigger concern for Boeheim might be the team’s propensity to give the ball away. The Orange lead the Big East with 15.9 turnovers a game, while Memphis (10-3) is among the nation’s top 10 in forcing them at 19.3 per contest.
“Memphis is physical,” Boeheim said. “I don’t think there are going to be many teams that we are going to play the rest of the year that aren’t going to be physical. We are going to have to get used to that, there is no question about that.”
Aside from playing tight defense against Syracuse, much of Pitt’s success came from making shots over the Orange’s zone. Opponents came in shooting 28.9 percent from 3-point range against Syracuse, but the Panthers made 10 of 24 from beyond the arc.
If the Tigers’ first two shooting performances against ranked opponents are any indication, they might not provide much of a threat to the Orange. Memphis shot 33.0 percent overall - 28.8 percent from 3-point range - in losses to No. 1 Kansas and then-No. 14 Tennessee.
The Tigers shot a season-low 31.4 percent against the Volunteers in a 66-59 home defeat Thursday, but rebounded Sunday against Houston Baptist. Roburt Sallie went 4 of 7 on 3s and scored a season-high 20 points in the 93-52 win, his best game since hitting 10 3-pointers and scoring 35 points in last season’s first-round NCAA tournament win over Cal State Northridge.
First-year coach Josh Pastner was quick to look ahead to Syracuse, which won 72-65 at Memphis on Dec. 20, 2008. The Tigers shot 34.3 percent in that game and 21.2 percent (7 of 33) from beyond the arc. Sallie made four of those 3s.
“We just need to focus on doing our jobs. Syracuse’s best offense is when they get in transition,” Pastner said. “Against the zone, we’re just going to have to make sure we make the right passes, the extra pass, get good looks, and knock it down when we’re open.”
This will be the first time facing the Orange for Elliot Williams, the Duke transfer who leads the Tigers at 19.7 points per game. Williams, a 49.0 percent shooter, shot 27.0 percent in Memphis’ three losses.