The Orange came out like gangbusters vs the Pittsburgh Panthers on Wednesday evening – almost as if they hadn’t played a game in nearly three weeks – connecting on 5 of 10 three-pointers to start the contest.
Alan Griffin gave the Orange a big boost to start the game. The junior forward connected on back-to-back triples as Syracuse went on an 11-0 run before the Panthers even got in the scoring column. Griffin was his usual, aggressive self. He was the best player on the floor in the first half for either team, leading the game in scoring (8 points) and rebounding (6). Syracuse led the Panthers 32-18 going into the locker room.
A quick start for the Orange left one question on the floor, how will Syracuse finish the game?
The Orange let their foot off the gas as they allowed the Panthers to creep back in the game. The Panthers, who came into the contest without key players, including its leading scorer and rebounder in Justin Champagnie, went on a run of their own in the second half. Pittsburgh cut the lead to four with 15:30 to play in the second half.
Still, the Orange gained its confidence back thanks to redshirt sophomore Robert Braswell, who was scorching from beyond the three-point arc. Braswell came into the contest 0-12 on three-pointers this season. The 6-foot-7 forward hit 4-5 threes, including three consecutive long-balls to give the Orange a comfortable lead of 47-33 with under 12 minutes to play. It is safe to say Braswell had his best performance of the season against the Panthers.
But Pittsburgh stuck around, waiting for the Orange to slip again. And they did. After Brasswells barrage of three-pointers, Pitt went on a 12-2 run. They would eventually tie the game at 57 with under two minutes to play behind stellar shooting late in the game.
Griffin came back down the court to hit a clutch three for the Orange, giving SU a 60-57 lead, followed by another try at the triple in the ensuing position to bury the Panthers, but he missed.
After answering Griffins late three with a jumper to cut the lead to one (60-59), the Panthers would get their hands on an offensive rebound off a missed shot and scored on an easy lay-up with eight seconds left to play. What followed would prove to be disastrous for the Orange.
Coming out of a timeout, Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj threw the ball to a place no Syracuse player was present, as the team appeared to be confused during the inbound play. The ball was recovered by Pitt and the Panthers were in a solid position to win the game after hitting a couple of free-throws with just two seconds to play.
The Orange managed to get a shot off at the buzzer as Griffin took the inbounds pass, dribbled up to the half-court line in a hurry, and sent up a prayer. For a second, everyone (the players and the press) held their breath as the shot looked like it had a real chance.
The ball clanked off the front rim as Pittsburgh players started celebrating a victory that seemed out of reach in the first half, and for most of the game.
In the end, Syracuse fell just short (literally) from a miraculous shot saving its perfect record at the Carrier Dome. The team has until Saturday night to shrug off the tough loss as the Orange get ready to host arch-rival Georgetown in primetime on Saturday night.