PITTSBURGH (AP) — For all the combined talent of Syracuse’s C.J. Fair, Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, even coach Jim Boeheim knows they’re not quite good enough to play three-on-10.
In case they needed a reminder, Pittsburgh provided one.
The deep and quickly improving Panthers pulled away from the undermanned sixth-ranked Orange 65-55 on Saturday, sending Syracuse to its first losing streak in nearly two years.
The Orange (18-3, 6-2 Big East) had just seven scholarship players in uniform but relied heavily on Fair, Carter-Williams and Triche to carry the load. After about 30 minutes, it became too much to bear as the Panthers (18-5, 6-4) slowly pulled away.
“It’s tough because they just keep rotating in guys with energy and just don’t let up,” Triche said. “With them rotating and playing tough defense, it kind of messed us up today.”
Fair led Syracuse (18-3, 6-2) with 20 points and Triche scored 14 but the Orange never led in the second half while losing two straight games for the first time since Feb. 9-12, 2011. Carter-Williams added 13 points for Syracuse but the nation’s leader in assists finished with just two — nearly seven below his average.
“They were pressuring the lanes and I was able to get open a few times, but we missed a lot of shots,” Carter-Williams said.
Syracuse shot just 37 percent (18 of 49) and was outrebounded 39-24 while matching its season-low point total while playing without center DaJuan Coleman, who is out four weeks after having left knee surgery on Tuesday. Forward James Southerland missed his fifth straight game due to an eligibility issue.
Their absence forced the Orange to rely on young big men like sophomore center Rakeem Christmas and freshman forward Jerami Grant. The duo struggled against the Panthers, combining for just five points and eight rebounds.
“I thought Jerami was active today,” Boeheim said. “I just don’t think he’s physical enough yet in this league. He wouldn’t be playing in this league if he didn’t have to. He’s just not quite ready for this type of game.”
Tray Woodall had 13 points, four assists and three steals as Pitt continued its mastery of highly ranked teams at home. The Panthers improved to 13-1 against Top 10 teams since the Petersen Events Center opened a decade ago.
Trey Zeigler added six points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench for Pitt, which needed a win over a bold-named opponent to boost its nice — but hardly overwhelming — resume. The Panthers came in just 1-3 against ranked teams, the lone win a 25-point romp over Georgetown last month that sent the Hoyas tumbling out of the polls.
This one should have a little more resonance.
The Panthers controlled the final 20 minutes and never really allowed Syracuse to get going.
“They’re a tremendous defensive team, I knew we were going to have trouble scoring against them,” Boeheim said. “When the game was in doubt, we had some opportunities and didn’t finish.”
Things were tied at 35 midway through the second half when Pitt took control for good. Cam Wright hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring to put the Panthers in front. Lamar Patterson followed with a pullup jumper and Steven Adams put back a miss that allowed Pitt to push in front 43-37.
Freshman Durand Johnson followed shortly thereafter with a 3-pointer of his own. The ebullient swingman put his fingers over his eye in celebration and moved in front 48-39. Syracuse never got closer than five the rest of the way as Pitt made its free throws after going just 3 of 12 at the line in a loss at No. 12 Louisville on Monday.
It wasn’t exactly the bounce back performance Syracuse needed after a long week to think about a 75-71 overtime loss to Villanova.
Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone has never been much of an issue for Pitt under coach Jamie Dixon. The Panthers began the day 9-3 against the Orange during Dixon’s tenure and, after a slow start, Pitt once again found the little creases in Syracuse’s defense to get open shots. The Panthers started the game 1 of 8 but finished the half 12 of 26, with all but two of the buckets coming off assists.
The result was a 27-25 halftime lead, Pitt going ahead on a dunk by Talib Zanna after Zeigler slashed to the middle then fed Zanna sprinting to the basket from the corner. Pitt finished with 19 assists on 24 baskets, the kind of unselfish play Dixon insisted was necessary to give his team a breakthrough win.
The Orange, meanwhile host Notre Dame on Monday night hoping to figure out how to squeeze more points out of its lineup.
“Who’s going to score?” Triche said. “We just have to make plays for each other and make each other better.”
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