hit two free throws with 10.8 seconds left and then the game-winner as time expired to keep Syracuse undefeated. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
No. 1 Syracuse 58, No. 25 Pittsburgh 56: It's become a cliché to say Tyler Ennis can't be a freshman. But he just can't be. Freshmen don't play like that. They don't do what Tyler Ennis does. And cliché or not, the 19-year-old won't let Syracuse lose.
Ennis hit two free throws with 10.8 seconds left to put Syracuse up for the first time in what felt like eons, and after Talib Zanna (16 points, 14 rebounds) put the Panthers back on top by one with 4.4 seconds remaining, the Ontario native had time to look at the clock, take a couple dribbles, square his shoulders and hurl it from just past midcourt to hit the game-winner as time expired.
You could audibly hear a Pittsburgh fan yell, "Are you kidding me?" after the shot as the officials were reviewing the play. There was never really any doubt. Ennis finished with 13 points and five assists.
"He had his worst game tonight I think all year," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. That's Jim Boeheim for you.
After the way Pitt has played the past few games, even though the Panthers were favored, a win over the Orange still would have felt like more than a bit of an upset. Pittsburgh hadn't scored 50 points in regulation in the month of February and needed two overtimes at home to beat a poor Virginia Tech team on Saturday, not to mention the shooting slump that's befallen Lamar Patterson in recent weeks.
Patterson came into the game shooting 33 percent in his last five games (including a 1-of-9 performance against the Hokies), and he was just 5-of-16 against the Orange. A 35-24 team rebounding advantage (including 16 offensive boards) certainly didn't hurt.
C.J. Fair did everything in his power to keep Syracuse from losing before Ennis' big shot, scoring eight straight points for the Orange down the stretch, including a three followed by a midrange two that cut the Pittsburgh lead to 54-53 with right around a minute to play.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, who was in the ESPN studio while the game was going on, can't be smiling too widely. The Shockers are the nation's only other unbeaten and are already campaigning for a No. 1 seed. They're predicted to win by at least 90 percent or more in their remaining games, according to KenPom, and it'll be hard for the committee to drop them to a No. 2 seed if they finish the year with a zero in the loss column. A loss by Syracuse would've allowed Marshall to breathe a bit more easily.
For the Orange, a win is a win is a win. Traveling to Pittsburgh is never easy, and Boeheim knows that. The Panthers were 9-0 coming into this game at The Pete against top-five opponents. Maybe Syracuse won't escape the regular season and the ACC Tournament without losing. (There's a reason teams in major conferences don't do it very often.) But CBS' Gary Parrish isn't wrong -- no team really needs a loss -- and it's not as though finding a way to win close games is going to hurt Syracuse's tournament odds moving forward.
Pittsburgh needed this win badly to prove it couldn't just beat up on mediocre teams. The Panthers only have one win over teams currently ranked in KenPom top 50 (Stanford on Nov. 26) coming in, and they'll only have a couple of other chances -- UNC on Feb. 15, and likely Florida State on Feb. 23 if the 'Noles can get right -- to pick up another one before Greensboro.
No. 24 UConn 83, USF 40: I am sorry, USF. I am just so sorry. It's never fun to get beaten that badly. Or to have 14 points heading into halftime. To try to make you feel better, I got you this:
No. 14 Kentucky 64, Auburn 56: In what felt like almost a carbon copy of Saturday’s road win over Mississippi State, Kentucky grinded out a victory at Auburn. Nobody stood out on the stat sheet, and the Wildcats shot 30.9 percent on the night, but defense made a difference yet again for UK. Auburn shot just 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. Kentucky has Florida Saturday, and it’ll need to get a better scoring effort to have any shot against the Gators.
No. 6 Villanova 87, DePaul 62: Darrun Hilliard II led the way with 22 points (including 5-of-7 from deep) as Villanova moved to 22-2 on the year and 10-1 in Big East play. After a Brandon Young layup cut the DePaul deficit to one with 14:48 left in the first half, the Wildcats went on a 19-5 run and were able to coast the rest of the way. There aren’t a whole lot of answers for the Blue Demons right now, who have lost seven straight.
No. 20 Memphis 76, UCF 70:
are still a bit too flawed and inconsistent to keep Josh Pastner from mass-buying Pepto-Bismol (I get the feeling he likes the tabs, not the liquid kind – who doesn’t?), but there’s a lot of talent there. And that is usually enough to beat teams like UCF, even on an off night. Shaq Goodwin
had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win. The Knights
are now in the midst of a very long losing streak. So maybe we should get them some dog gifs of their own.