Pitt rallies for 83-77 win over Syracuse
PITTSBURGH (AP) Syracuse made any discussion of its NCAA prospects a moot point earlier this week, issuing a self-imposed postseason ban pending the outcome of an investigation into violations that date back nearly a decade.
Pittsburgh has no such limitations outside of its own sometimes erratic play. Their backs to the wall yet again, the Panthers - clad in all black for the first time - responded by fanning their flickering prospects with a spirited rally.
Jamel Artis scored 20 points including the clinching 3-pointer with a minute to play and Pitt surged past the Orange 83-77 on Saturday.
''We've got a lot of momentum on our side right now,'' forward Michael Young said.
Even without senior guard Cam Wright, who left early in the first half with a left ankle injury and did not return. Seldom-used reserve Sheldon Jeter filled in admirably, scoring a career-high 18 points as Pitt (16-8, 5-5 ACC) won its third straight. Jeter, who transferred to Pitt after spending his freshman year at Vanderbilt, made 7 of 9 shots, the biggest a putback with 30 seconds to go.
''My minutes are kind of erratic, whatever time I get, I want to make the most of it,'' Jeter said.
Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije led Syracuse (15-8, 6-4) with 23 points each but the Orange crumbled down the stretch three days after the school voluntarily pulled itself out of any tournament consideration - the ACC tournament included - while awaiting the results of an investigation by the NCAA Committee on Infractions on potential wrongdoing in the athletic department between 2007-12.
Guard Trevor Cooney said the knowledge the season will end at North Carolina State on March 7 did not have an impact on his team's performance.
''We didn't come out here and get blown out by 25,'' Cooney said. ''I'm proud of how we played and how we fought.''
The Orange controlled the first 24 minutes, leading by as much as 10 before Pitt finally started to figure out Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Jeter's ability to find open spaces certainly helped. The 6-foot-8 forward hit several jumpers and added a rare dunk to give the Panthers the kind of lift off the bench they desperately needed after Wright hobbled off the floor less than 4 minutes in.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called Jeter, who came in averaging just 3 points, the difference.
''They did a really good job of moving the basketball and getting it to him,'' Boeheim said. ''He made 2-3 tough shots.''
Pitt took its first lead at 51-50 on a free throw by Jeter, setting up a taut back-and-forth reminiscent of the countless battles between the two schools during their days in the Big East. There were nine lead changes and eight ties, almost all of them coming in the last 16 minutes.
A free throw by Christmas tied the game at 73 with 2:42 to play, but the Panthers ended things with a 10-4 run. Artis started the burst with a lay-up and Jeter followed with a 15-footer. Two free throws by Christmas made it a two-point game before Artis buried a 3 from the top of the key. Gbinije made a running layup but Jeter put back a miss for his seventh and final field goal and the Panthers held on.
''This team has gotten better, they've improved,'' Dixon said. ''We've had guys play different spots, different positions. We're at 16-8, that's where we're at and we've faced more challenges than most 16-8 teams.''
The Orange tried their best to put an upbeat spin on their suddenly dead-end season even though none of the players on the current roster were around when the potential wrongdoing occurred. The Pitt student section provided a couple of reminders of Syracuse's predicament, sporting signs that read ''March Sadness'' and ''Pulp Fiction.'' Gbinije attempted to take it in stride.
''I think the correct way to answer is with a win,'' he said. ''Yeah we played hard but at the end of the day we only care about wins.''
Syracuse: Christmas spent several moments getting tended to by the trainers in the first half after getting whacked in the mouth. ... The Orange made just 20 of 30 free throws.
Pitt: Wright, Pitt's fourth-leading scorer, appeared to injure the ankle while landing awkwardly after missing a jump shot in the corner Dixon described the injury as ''day to day.'' Wright missed the Panthers' first seven games while recovering from a fractured left foot. ... Pitt had 22 assists on 28 baskets and shot 59 percent in the second half.
Syracuse plays at Boston College on Wednesday
Pitt travels to Louisville on Wednesday.