NEW YORK—The fourth-seeded Panthers (24-8) wrote a tale of two halves in their last Big East Tournament appearance in Pitt history. They scrapped and fought against fifth-seeded Syracuse (25-8) in the second half and pulled to within one point with 30 seconds left.
Unfortunately, they slept-walked through the first half and could not recover from a 13-point deficit at the break and fell 62-59 to the Orange at Madison Square Garden in the tournament quarterfinal Thursday afternoon.
“We’re disappointed in the loss but proud of how our guys fought in the second half. We obviously dug a hole for ourselves in the first half,” Dixon said. “To be down by 13 and come back and be down one with a free throw, that showed a lot.”
Tray Woodall scored a three-point play with one minute left to pull the Panthers to within three points. Talib Zanna then attempted the same thing with 30 seconds left when he layed in the putback and got fouled. He missed the free throw however and fouled Michael Carter-Williams on the rebound.
Carter-Williams sunk both free throws which also sunk the Panthers, who have now lost their last four quarterfinal games in the Big East tournament after earning the double-bye. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim credited the free throws in icing the game. He scored 11 points overall.
“Early in the year, [Carter-Williams] missed some [free throws] against Temple in this building. Sometimes you have to go through those bad experiences to be able to come back in this situation and make them,” Boeheim said. “They’re huge. Pitt had a lot of momentum. It would have been difficult to win had he missed those.”
Pitt had no answer for James Southerland in the first half as the 6-8 senior guard shot 5-for-5 from three-point range and 6-for7 from the field to score 17 points in the first half.
He hit his only three-pointer in the second half to cap off a perfect 6-for-6 shooting performance from three-point range. He led all scorers with 20 points.
“I didn’t even realize I shot 6-for-6 [from three]. It’s a great feeling,” Southerland said. “I just go out and play and make sure I make every shot.”
The game was tied 14-14 midway through the second half, but Syracuse tore off a 13-0 run to take a 27-15 lead with 5 minutes left in the half. The Orange shot 8-13 from behind the 3-point arc before the break which led to a 40-27 deficit for the Panthers at the half.
“Our transition defense was not good in the first half and that’s how he got open looks,” Dixon said. “We [guarded] him much better in the second half and that put us in a position to win.”
Dixon told his team the same thing in the locker room at the break. The rebounding numbers reflected that the Panthers played with more intensity in the second half. They got out-rebounded 18-14 in the first half but out-rebounded the Orange by 16 boards in the second half.
“I just said [at halftime] we had defensive breakdowns and mental mistakes and we’re not doing what we needed to do,” Dixon said. “We had to get our rebounding totals to change, which we did, and we had to play better, which we did.”
On the other side of the coin, Boeheim credited his offense for the stellar performance in the first half.
“I thought offensively that the first half was as well as we played all year. Pittsburgh is a tremendous defensive team,” Boeheim said. “You know they’re going to come back. We just couldn’t get defensive rebounds [in the second half] and that allowed them to get back into the game.”
Pitt used defense and rebounding to battle back in the second half. When Woodall hit a three-pointer with 12:21 left in the game, it pulled the Panther back to within single digits at 44-37.
“As you saw in the second half, we played our style of basketball,” Woodall said. “This game in the second half showed what kind of team we really are. We played outstanding basketball in the second half.”
“I feel like we let the first half get away from us,” Patterson said. “That was a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
Southerland and Carter-Williams were joined in double figures by C.J. Fair with 13 points and Brandon Triche with 12.
“After going six or even games straight with a lack of energy, we knew we had to be urgent,” Triche said. “We know how important this Big East Tournament is. This could jumpstart us in the [NCAA] tournament.”
Pitt will already be able to focus now on The NCAA Tournament as they return home tonight to prepare for Sunday night’s NCAA Selection Show. Stay tuned to Panther247 for coverage including Coach Dixon and the players’ reaction to the seed and destination they will earn for the “Big Dance” next week.
Syracuse will return to Madison Square Garden for Friday night's semifinals and will face Georgetown.