Panthers Back to Business in Win over Syracuse
By Anthony Jaskulski
The Panthers naysayers didn’t have long to gloat.
In a dominant fashion, No. 4 Pitt (17-1, 5-1) behind the hustle of their primetime player Sam Young, took a late surge and ran through No. 8 Syracuse in a 78-60 throbbing at the Petersen Events Center tonight.
The Panthers three stars, guard Levance Fields, center DeJuan Blair and forward Sam Young finished with a combined 57 of the 78 total points scored.
Young finished with a game-high 22 points, as well as corralling six rebounds and shooting a solid 6 of 8 on the night from the free throw line.
Pitt has now won 11 of 14 matchups with the Orange, including 6 of the last 7 home games.
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“To come out and do what we did tonight really speaks volumes,” said Coach Jamie Dixon. “We did a very good job making them take tough shots, and finishing the battle on the boards. They were challenged about the rebounding numbers, and they responded tonight.”
After giving up 42 rebounds in Saturday’s loss at Louisville, the Panthers did indeed respond to the call, grabbing the 40-28 advantage tonight over the Orange.
Blair led the way for the Panthers on the boards, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds and dropping 20 points, including a monstrous slam-dunk late in the second half, erupting the Oakland Zoo and Panther fans in attendance.
“We played good and came out strong,” said Blair about bouncing back from the loss at Louisville. “Levance (Fields) did a good job getting our minds off the loss, and as soon as we got off the plane we forgot about it. Everybody is going to lose in the Big East, it’s going to happen. This game showed how we can bounce back from that game.”
Blair’s double-double gem of a game came at the expense of SU center Arinze Onuaku, who finished with just eight points, while securing nine rebounds for the Orange.
Blair and Onuaku’s epic collision in the paint went on all game, and surely proved as a preview for the two and their future heavyweight rumbles to come in the NBA.
“He is a good player,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “Blair is as good of a rebounder as I’ve seen in this league in a long time. He backed us down too much tonight, and we just didn’t do a good job against him defensively. He’s a really good player.”
Pitt outscored Syracuse as a team in the paint 44-26.
Defense became the strongpoint behind Pitt’s bounce back performance tonight.
The Panthers held the Orange to 23 of 55 (41.8%) from the field, and forced 14 turnovers, while only committing one in the second half themselves, after surrendering 20 turnovers in Saturday’s loss at Louisville.
Young’s dominant performance defensively helped set Pitt escape from a single-digit lead midway through the second half, to a grinding 30-20 run to end the game, including dropping two three-pointers in three straight possessions, answering the call of the Orange on the other end.
“I thought we worked on some things before Louisville and he played well in that game aside from a 6-8 minute stretch at the end,” said Dixon on Young. “Offensive rebounds are key, and he did a really good job tonight of going after the ball and finding ways to get in a good position to score.”
After an early first half surge from the Panthers, Syracuse answered the call thanks to the backcourt duo of Jonny Flynn and Andy Rautins, who combined for 29 points on the night, including a 5 of 12 three-point performance from Rautins.
Two early technical’s on guard Paul Harris and forward Rick Jackson sprawled the Panthers with Fields missing all four free throws, and scoring no points on the ensuing possessions, allowing Syracuse to race to a 7-0 run during the stretch.
“I thought early in the game we had some opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them,” said Boehiem. “We had our opportunities and didn’t capitalize. They are a tremendous team at rebounding and limiting you to shot opportunities on offense.”
Fields contributed in helping usher Pitt back to the win column with yet another six assist night, and 15 points, going 7 of 11 from the field.
Pitt will be back on the road for their next meeting with conference rival West Virginia on Sunday.
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