Basketball

A Pitiful Day: Syracuse basketball loses to Pittsburgh 63-60 (Brent Axe recap)

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Syracuse, N.Y. — As one of the darkest days in American history unfolded about six hours away in Washington, D.C., the Syracuse University basketball team got back on Jim Boeheim Court at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday afternoon.

The circumstances were odd enough as the Orange again were playing in an empty Carrier Dome.

Syracuse had 18 days in between games as another COVID-related pause, this one caused by a positive test in the University at Buffalo program shortly after a game at the Dome on Dec. 19, caused three Syracuse games to be postponed.

Florida State was supposed to be Syracuse’s opponent on Wednesday but had to bow out due to its own COVID issues. A game scheduled for Feb. 13 against Pitt was moved up to Wednesday.

To say the least, 2020′s problems were certainly evident at the Dome six days into 2021.

No one could have guessed the backdrop Syracuse would play against on Wednesday as it lost to Pittsburgh 63-60.

Syracuse played on as the unthinkable happened, a mob storming the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C.

As for the game, Syracuse owned the lead for 39 minutes and eight seconds of clock time, but the Panthers needed just eight seconds with the lead to prevail as Pittsburgh forward Au’Diese Toney’s tip-in of a missed 3-pointer by Ithiel Horton gave the Panthers a 61-60 lead. It was the Panthers’ first lead of the game.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, never shy to offer an opinion on the world beyond basketball, held back a bit in offering his thoughts on the travesty that transpired in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.

“It’s a sad thing,’’ Boeheim said when asked of the events of the day. “I’m just not going to get into politics. Two people canceled their season tickets because I said I thought the election has been solved.’’

“That’s how crazy these people are,’’ he said. “Two guys that had season tickets for 38 years canceled them because I said the election’s over. They said, ‘No, it wasn’t. It was fixed.’

“That’s sad. It’s sad for our country. It’s just an awful, awful thing,” Boeheim said.

Sad. Awful. Disgusting. No words can do it justice.

The show went on at the Dome, and Syracuse fell to 6-2.

On Saturday, Syracuse plays its old rival, Georgetown. If there is ever a time to get out of Washington, D.C., for a game, this may be it for the Hoyas considering recent events.

January 6, 2021, will prove to be one of the saddest days in American history. The record books will show that the Syracuse University men’s basketball team played on that day.

Syracuse also played a game on March 12, 2020, shortly before an unprecedented shutdown of the sports world occurred due to the coronavirus.

I think we’ve had enough history for a decade or so.

If only it was that easy to stick to sports.

The Dark Side

Syracuse Orange forward Quincy Guerrier (1) is trapped in the corner by Pittsburgh Panthers guard Xavier Johnson (1) in a game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021 Dennis Nett | [email protected]

Paint Problems

Pittsburgh simply crushed Syracuse in the paint in every way imaginable.

The Panthers out-rebounded Syracuse, 49-33. Hard to imagine now, but the board battle was actually in favor of Syracuse by a mark of 22-21 at halftime.

Pitt destroyed Syracuse on the glass by a mark of 28-11 in the second half.

“They got us on the boards in the second half,’’ Boeheim said.

Pitt came into Wednesday’s game ranked second in the ACC and 29th nationally in rebounds per game (41.9). The Panthers’ offensive rebounding percentage was 35.1 percent, far above the national average of 28.1 percent (H/T to Mike Waters for digging up that stat).

Of the Panthers’ 63 points, 21 came off offensive rebounds.

The common denominator in Syracuse’s two losses? The Orange have been out-rebounded badly. Rutgers grabbed 16 more boards than Syracuse in a win against the Orange earlier this season.

A large portion of Syracuse’s problems in the paint against Pitt boiled down to two factors.

One was the absence of Bourama Sidibe. The Syracuse center was set to return to the lineup after missing most of the season with a knee injury but experienced soreness in his knee and did not play.

The second big factor fueling Syracuse’s inside struggle was Quincy Guerrier’s foul trouble. He played just 17 minutes against Pittsburgh, finishing with three points and five rebounds. He was averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game entering Wednesday’s tilt with the Panthers.

“That’s part of it,’’ Boeheim said. “Quincy being out; he’s our best rebounder. That hurts us for sure.’’

“The boards is a problem for us anyway,’’ Boeheim said, “but with Quincy out, we’re unbelievably thin and small. there’s no question about that.’’

“He’s a very important player for us,’’ Boeheim said. “He’s still learning the game. He over-powered people early in the year. He’s not going to over-power guys in the league.’’

Tale of Two Halves

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Panthers guard Xavier Johnson (1) dishes out to the wing in a game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021 Dennis Nett | [email protected]

Syracuse shot out of cannon to start Wednesday’s game after a long layoff.

The Orange took an 11-0 lead, led by eight points from Alan Griffin. The Orange’s lead grew to 18 points. Syracuse went to halftime up 32-18.

You know the rest. Total meltdown.

Even though Syracuse did not lose the lead until there were less than 10 seconds to go, it spent the second half on its heels with the feeling of a Pittsburgh comeback inevitable.

Pittsburgh roared out of the break on a 13-3 run, cutting the Orange lead to 35-31. Pitt scored seven unanswered points over the course of two minutes to cut the Syracuse lead to 49-40 with 8:36 left in the game.

With Syracuse up seven with five minutes to play, Pitt went inside for back-to-back layups from Femi Odukale and Terrell Brown to cut the SU lead to 57-52 with 2:40 to play.

All told, Pitt outscored Syracuse 45-28 in the second half, was 6-of-16 from 3-point range after a 1-of-12 mark in the first half and, as mentioned above, throttled the Orange in the paint, including a 21-3 overall edge in second-chance points.

Live by the 3 …

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh

Syracuse Orange guard Buddy Boeheim (35) passes to Syracuse Orange guard Joseph Girard III (11) in a game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021 Dennis Nett | [email protected]

With the path to an inside game cut off, Syracuse tried to carry itself to victory from the 3-point line.

Syracuse went 12-of-38 from 3-point range against Pittsburgh, but too many ill-advised shots from beyond the arc were attempted.

Syracuse’s top sharp-shooters, Joe Girard (2-for-8) and Buddy Boeheim (2-for-10), went a combined 4-of-18 from beyond the arc. That certainly doesn’t help your cause (especially with Girard insisting on attempting at least one shot per game from the moon) but it was unconventional 3-point shooting stats that stick out from Wednesday’s game.

Freshman Kadary Richmond was 0-of-4 from distance against the Panthers. The 3-point shot clearly is not a weapon in the youngster’s repertoire quite yet, so it was odd to see him intent on connecting from distance against Pitt. His decision-making drew the ire of Boeheim and a place on the bench down the stretch.

When Robert Braswell is your best 3-point shooter (more on that below), you know what kind of day it was.

The Sunny Side

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh

The Syracuse bench celebrate after Syracuse Orange forward Robert Braswell (20) three pointer that led to a Pitt timeout. in a game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021 Dennis Nett | [email protected]

Big Bob Braswell

Syracuse got an unexpected lift off the bench from Robert Braswell against the Panthers.

Braswell was 4-for-5 from 3-point range against Pitt. All 12 of his points came from beyond the arc in 20 minutes of action.

Let that one sink in for a moment.

If I handed you a $100 bill and sent you off to the nearest sportsbook before the game to bet on who would lead Syracuse in 3-point shooting, would Braswell even be in your top 5?

Braswell’s 3-point lift gave the Orange a temporary surge in the second half, hitting three triples over the course of two minutes in a 9-2 Syracuse scoring run that put Syracuse ahead 44-33 with 12:57 to play.

“He played well on defense, we played well on offense. He really picked us up. He was the difference,” Boeheim said. “He gave us a chance. Without Robert, we wouldn’t have had a chance. They would have beaten us early. He was the difference. In the second half, he kept us in the game”

Boeheim went with Braswell over freshman Woody Newton due to an edge in practice time during the Orange’s COVID pause.

“Woody hasn’t practiced and Robert has. So I was going to go with Robert anyway,” Boeheim said. “And then they were in the zone situation and he can shoot. We know he can shoot. And he knocked down some shots. We know he’s a good shooter.

“But he’s had practices. That’s the main thing. He practiced every day. Woody was not able to. Woody was in isolation, so he did not practice at all.”

Griffin’s Groove

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh

Syracuse Orange forward Alan Griffin (0) in a game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome Wednesday Jan. 6, 2021 Dennis Nett | [email protected]

Alan Griffin led Syracuse in scoring with 15 points and on the boards with eight rebounds. He added four assists, three steals and two blocks to the effort.

Griffin was expected to move back to a sixth-man role with Sidibe’s reported return but logged 37 minutes against the Panthers.

Griffin had an eight-point burst to start the game then picked his spots to contribute as the game wore on.

Griffin gave Syracuse a few last gasps. He had one sequence at the end of the game where he hit a 3-pointer to put Syracuse up 60-59, missed a 3-pointer but then blocked a shot with 29 seconds to go. Griffin’s desperation heave from half-court as time expired rimmed out.

This, That and the Other Thing

Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh bench celebrates after Pitt tied the score against Syracuse in an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Syracuse, N.Y. (Dennis Nett/The Post-Standard via AP) APAP

  • The loss to the Panthers snapped a seven-game Syracuse winning streak against Pittsburgh that dated to 2018.
  • Syracuse leads the all-time series with Pittsburgh 73-46.
  • The Orange attempted only five free throws during the game, the fewest chances from the charity stripe since January 5, 2019, at Notre Dame.

Pitt Postgame

Syracuse.com’s Mike Curtis and I hop on YouTube and Facebook live for a postgame show following each Syracuse basketball game.

Check out the video below if you missed it.

Contact Brent Axe: Email | Twitter

More Syracuse basketball:

Pittsburgh crushes Syracuse on the backboards; Orange can’t score (Donna Ditota’s quick hits)

You grade the Orange after loss to Pittsburgh

Syracuse guard Joe Girard Q and A: What’s happened since the Covid pause?

Covid chaos in the ACC: How coaches deal with last-minute postponements, uncertain rosters

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on 18-day layoff: ‘It’s no fun not playing’

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