SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—When Syracuse rallied within a basket of Pittsburgh late in the second half Thursday night, the 10th-ranked Panthers called a timeout with the shot clock winding down.
When play resumed, Antonio Graves was left all alone in the right corner and hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left on the clock. That was every bit as important in Pitt’s 74-66 victory as Levance Fields’ career-high 24 points or the 11 shots Syracuse’s Demetris Nichols missed.
“It was a nice sign,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “The execution was very solid. We didn’t seem to waver. We showed patience. We didn’t take a quick shot after the crowd got into it.”
The game was a rematch of the final of the Big East tournament last season, which the Orange won 65-61 at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers (13-2) have won nine of the last 12 meetings with Syracuse (11-4) and three of the last four in the Carrier Dome.
“I was hurt after the Big East championship, ” said Fields, who missed all four of his shots and did not score in that loss. “I’ve been thinking about this game.”
Fields was 9-for-15 from the field, including 3-of-7 on 3-pointers as he scored 16 points in the second half. Ronald Ramon had 12 points for the Panthers, Graves nine and Mike Cook eight, while Aaron Gray had nine points and nine rebounds.
“They’ve got shot makers,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “That’s the one thing they have this year that they didn’t have last year—a lot more guys that can shoot the ball from the perimeter.”
Fields said: “It’s a knock on us that we don’t have a go-to guy, but we feel everyone is a go-to guy down the stretch, and I think that makes us even more dangerous.”
After both teams struggled with 3-for-12 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half, Pitt went 6-of-10 after the break while the Orange were 2-for-7. Nichols, who had scored 20 or more points in six straight games, was 1-for-6 in the second half and finished 4-for-15 overall, taking several off-balance shots, many of them contested.
“It’s just one game,” Nichols said. “The shots that I missed tonight I know they’re going to go down (next time). It was one of those nights. We need to execute our offense. There were times tonight that we broke down.”
Syracuse led the entire first half, but the first breakdown was costly. Pitt scored the first seven points of the second half and never lost the lead.
Eric Devendorf had 17 points and Darryl Watkins added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Orange, who lost at home for the third time this season and dropped to 0-3 against ranked teams this season, also losing to Wichita State and Oklahoma State.
Terrence Roberts had six points for Syracuse in his first appearance since spraining his left knee 2 1/2 games ago, but he had to leave this game when his head hit the floor hard early in the second half after an elbow from Levon Kendall.
Roberts’ mouth was bloodied in the exchange and he received stitches in the locker room before returning to the bench midway through the period. Syracuse also played without reserve forward Matt Gorman, who sprained his left ankle in practice on Wednesday, leaving just seven healthy bodies for the game.
“That’s just something we’re going to have to adjust to,” Devendorf said. “We can’t make any excuses out there.”
After Graves hit his crucial 3, Cook converted a finger roll and Ramon drained a 3 from right wing to give Pitt a 68-62 lead with 2:52 left.
Syracuse made one final run. Devendorf’s driving left-handed layup had the Orange back within 68-64 just 31 seconds later. But Nichols missed twice, Devendorf missed a 3, and the Panthers went 6-of-8 from the free throw line in the final minute.
“If you look at all the games we lost, they come down to be close games,” said freshman guard Paul Harris, who had six points and nine rebounds. “We don’t know how to finish close games. We’ve got to find out how we’re going to finish a game when we get close. Are we going to run and hide or play to win it?”