Familiar rivals No. 22 Pittsburgh and No. 2 Syracuse met on Saturday afternoon, but under a new banner with first place in the ACC on the line. And given the Panthers’ success against Syracuse under Jamie Dixon, they had a good understanding of what it took to execute properly against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense.
Pittsburgh made good use of the area in the middle of the zone, hitting the foul line area on many occasions and they attacked the short corner as well. The Panthers may have left a few points on the board in the first half in the form of missed attempts at the rim, but it was clear that they had the ability to leave the Carrier Dome with what would have been a big victory.
But even with Lamar Patterson heating up from beyond the arc in the second half and Pittsburgh taking a 52-49 with 4:41 remaining, the Panthers were unable to close. The reason why: Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who by this point in the season should be on any list discussing national Player of the Year candidates.
Never rushed, the smooth floor general made the key plays late in Syracuse’s 59-54 win, moving the Orange to 18-0 on the season and 5-0 in ACC play. Ennis, who finished the game with 16 points and three assists, scored six points to spearhead a game-ending 10-2 run. He may not have reached his average in assists (5.6 apg) on Saturday afternoon, but in a game that required sound decision-making in the half court Ennis got the job done.
Syracuse, who can be lethal in the open floor when given the opportunity to run, scored just three fast-break points against a Pittsburgh team well-schooled in making sure the Orange don’t get too many of those chances. But Syracuse shot 51.2% from the field (65.4% on two-point shots) and scored 32 of their 59 points in the paint, with forwards Rakeem Christmas (ten points, four rebounds), C.J. Fair (13 points, six rebounds) and Jerami Grant (12 points, four rebounds) all scoring in double figures.
During the offseason Ennis was the focus of many projections for Syracuse; with essentially no other option at the position he was seen as the difference between a good team and one that could potentially win a national title. On Saturday afternoon, the freshman once again showed why he’s one of the nation’s best players.