By Michael McAllister
The Orange opened the game on fire, scoring the game's first 13 points. It looked like they were going to run the Panthers out of the building. But this is Pittsburgh, this is Jamie Dixon, and this is a Panthers team that had beaten Syracuse five straight times. Pittsburgh hung around and kept chipping away at the lead. The Orange had an answer every time, and they held on for a 71-63 victory to set a school record for most wins to start a season.
Syracuse shot 46% from the field, while holding Pitt to just 39% shooting. They forced 14 Panther turnovers, while only turning it over 10 times themselves. The Orange were outstanding from the free-throw line, making 20 out of 23 attempts. The Panthers only made 12 of their 23 attempts. Pitt dominated Syracuse on the boards, 40-28, and that allowed them to stay in the game with second chance points and easy buckets. Out of Pitt's 40 rebounds, 19 were offensive. Syracuse finished the game 11 blocks and eight steals.
Dion Waiters was one of five Orange players in double figures, scoring a game-high 16 points. Brandon Triche added 12 points and three assists. Kris Joseph added 12 points, including a clutch three-pointer after Pitt had cut the lead to four late in the second half. Scoop Jardine also had 12 points to go along with 10 assists, two steals, and a block. Fab Melo rounded out the double figures scorers with 10, to go along with his first double digit rebounding performance of his career with 10. It was his second career double-double, the other coming when he had 12 points and 10 blocks earlier this year against Seton Hall. CJ Fair added seven points, five rebounds, three blocks, and maybe the dunk of the year as he posterized a Pitt defender. The video of the unbelievable dunk is below (thanks to Cuse Country on YouTube):
CJ joked about the dunk, "It was a good play because throughout the whole season Scoop has been giving me a hard time, saying I lost my leaping abilities. So this is a good play to show him I still got it."
Scoop Jardine was the best player on the floor. He was penetrating, passing, making good decisions, hitting shots, and running the offense. He played well defensively and ran the break very well. Over the last three games, Scoop has 24 assists and only four turnovers. That's pretty darn good. He's also scored 30 points, had five steals, and is shooting 52% from the field. If he plays like that, Syracuse is nearly unbeatable.
Pitt only had three players in double figures, as Ashton Gibbs, Lamar Patterson, and Cameron Wright each scored 10 points. Dante Taylor grabbed 11 rebounds for a Pitt team that was dominant on the glass. Though Gibbs had 10 points, he was held to just 4-12 shooting, including 2-9 from beyond the arc. He had been a nemesis of the Orange in years past, and the zone made sure to key on him most of the night.
After the game, Kris Joseph discussed the record 20-0 start: "People have been talking about it for a few games now. We want to continue winning, but thatís all weíve been trying to do is win basketball games. We werenít focused on the fact that we were on our way to making school history. We just wanted to win basketball games and we did that." Coach Boeheim added that the 20-0 start had, "no significance."
Waiters talked about Joseph's big three when Pitt had momentum and cut the lead to four. "Iíd just hit a jump shot so I knew they would try to get out of me the next time, so my whole thing was just penetrate and dish. Jo hit the big-time shot."
Brandon Triche talked about the resilience of this team: "We stuck together as a team. The best part of todayís win was we didnít shoot it well from the 3-point line. We got a lot of open shots that we couldíve made and we still stuck it out. So that shows what kind of team we are."
Boeheim discussed Scoop's performance on the night: "He is the leader of this team. Heís a vocal leader. Heís a guy who will make plays. Heís not afraid to make plays. He can make plays and he does make plays. And when he shoots the ball good, heís one of the best point guards in the league. Heís a key guy. Most people in this town canít quite figure that out. Maybe they will, but I seriously doubt it." Triche added to that saying, "Heís the ultimate leader. When guys are down, youíll see him a lot of times going over to talk to him just to keep your head in the game. A guy like that, you need."
Scoop responded to the kind words after his fantastic performance: "Iím doing whatever it takes to win a national championship. If they need me to play 25-30 minutes, Iím there for them. If they need me to play 15 a night, Iím there for them."
The Orange move to 20-0 on the season, setting a new school record for most wins to start a season without a loss. Jim Boeheim tied Adolph Rupp for fourth on the all-time wins list with 876. It was the 100th meeting between Syracuse and Pittsburgh. No one on the current Syracuse roster had ever beaten Pitt, so this win was significant. Especially for Scoop and Kris, who may not play them again unless they meet up in the Big East tournament. Syracuse will now rest for a few days, as they don't play again until Saturday as they travel to the Joyce Center to take on Notre Dame for a 6pm tip.