Syracuse Defeats Pittsburgh, Solidly Leading the ACC
The Syracuse Orange and Pittsburgh Panthers entered the ACC hoping to add to the top notch basketball reputation of the conference. Two weeks into conference play, Syracuse and Pitt were #1 and #2, at 17-0 and 16-1 overall, and 4-0 in conference, respectively. On Saturday, they faced off in the Carrier Dome to determine who would move forward as the #1 team. Despite being significantly tested, Syracuse defeated Pitt 59-54 to move to 18-0 (5-0) and take a solid lead atop the ACC.
For those who followed the Big East, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon is one of the few coaches that simply has Jim Boeheim’s “number.” Once upon a time, his Pitt teams had won 5 straight games in the Dome. That is not only impressive, it is unprecedented. Nobody has that kind of success as a visitor, even the great Georgetown teams of the 1980’s were vulnerable. So, record aside, this matchup was a true test of the Orange. And they passed the test with a win.
This is not to say that it was a beauty contest for Syracuse. Then again, games against Pitt rarely are. Like Michigan State, Pitt plays smart, tough basketball. Win or lose, you leave the game with a bruise or two.
And, as good as pre-season All-American CJ Fair was, he was not the reason why Syracuse won the game. Fair is still adjusting to the role as “leader,” all-too-often committing turnovers and forcing shots. He is taking nearly 3 more shots a game than last, but making up just 1 more. His rebounding is down by 1.5 per game. His turnovers have risen from 1.6 per game to 2.9 per game. CJ Fair remains a consistent player that should be a favorite for all Syracuse fans. The effort has been there since the day he stepped on campus. He is the quintessential Boeheim player. If he is not in the NBA next year, it is just one more reason for this author to continue caring less about that league. But he is not the reason why Syracuse is 18-0.
No, the reason why Syracuse is 18-0 right now is the guard play. More specifically, Tyler Ennis. While Trevor Cooney’s long-range shooting, defense, and ball handling have been substantially better than expected after a rocky year 1, Ennis has walked onto campus and played with a mature game not seen by any freshman at Syracuse under Boeheim, except for perhaps Carmelo Anthony. “Pearl” Washington was more dynamic, but Ennis has played more like an upperclassman than Pearl ever did. And now he has become clutch.
Indeed, down the stretch against Pitt it was Ennis making the difference. Beginning at 2 minutes to go, here are the Syracuse possessions:
- 1:50 Tyler Ennis made layup (putting Syracuse up 53-52)
- :32 Tyler Ennis made layup (putting Syracuse up 55-52)
- :05 Tyler Ennis makes two free throws (putting Syracuse up 57-54)
From down 52-51 to up 57-54, it was all Ennis offensively. True, Rakeem Christmas clinched the game with his clutch free throws with 1.2 seconds remaining. True, credit the Syracuse defense for tightening up against Lamar Patterson (who was deadly from three-point range to get Pitt back into the game when down by 11). But from the time Pitt had rallied to tie the game at 46-46 with 6 minutes to go, Ennis scored 7 of Syracuse’s final 11 points and assisted on the other basket.
Unfortunately for Syracuse fans, the media is really starting to pay attention to Ennis. This, of course, increases the risk of Ennis becoming a one-and-done like Anthony. However, Anthony left Syracuse with its only National Championship. Any Syracuse fan would take that “deal” again.
In the meantime, Syracuse is atop the ACC and looking great.
Last week’s season-ending injury to Durand Johnson seemed to have had a big impact on the Pitt team and trying to find another scorer to step-up – especially from 3 point (although Patterson did a pretty phenomenal job from long range).
Pitt is still a very good team, and I see them getting revenge at home on 2/12. Its a good rivalry for the ACC to have.
As for Ennis being a one-and-done, even before the season started a lot of people thought he would be good enough to enter the draft this year. Although it would be great if Ennis stayed for an extra year, I’m more concerned about Grant going early. Hopefully JB and Co. can convince him to stay another year and continue to develop.