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The combination of Covid-19, a two-week period of inactivity and Justin Champagnie’s knee injury seemed too much for Pitt be to overcome it, but the Panthers turned adversity into a 63-60 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday.
Au’Toneys tip-in with an eight second lead gave Pitt the 61-60 lead. Xavier Johnson sealed the win with a steal and two fouls.
The game was the first for Pitt (6-2, 2-1 ACC) since losing to Louisville on December 22nd and the first for coach Jeff Capel in three weeks. Capel, who missed the game in Louisville, made his first return to the bench on Wednesday after being nearly hospitalized with the coronavirus.
After two games were postponed last week due to covidial restrictions, those concerns remained and Pitt played unreservedly against Nike Sibande, John Hugley and Noah Collier.
In the first seven games, Hugley, a freshman, had been one of the first players off the bench. Sibande gave Pitt a spark in the guard position when he was declared eligible by the NCAA on December 16 after being transferred from Miami, Ohio.
Losing these players, as well as Collier and Champagnie, hurt Pitt’s depth and limited what Capel could do with his lineup.
Ithiel Horton led Pitt with 14 points while hitting four out of ten shots beyond the 3-point arc. Juniors Toney and Johnson and newcomer Femi Odukale each scored 10 points, and senior striker Terrell Brown added eight.
Johnson’s 3-pointer, 1 minute and 49 seconds ahead, brought the result to 57-57 after Pitt was 18 points behind in the second half.
Pitt reduced Syracuse’s lead to 35:31 with a 13-3 run in the second half and prevented the Orange from running away with victory. Syracuse quickly regained control after Pitt’s first run, but the Panthers were only 57-54, two minutes from the end of the game before dominating the crucial final seconds.
Sometimes Syracuse (6: 2, 1: 1) scored three points at once and gained control early on with an 11-0 lead in just 2½ minutes. It was Orange’s first game since December 19.
Pitt quickly recovered on a six-point run after a 3-point shot from Horton and Karim Coulibaly.
But the orange kept finding holes in Pitt’s defense. The Panthers also missed Johnson for much of the first half after sitting down with two fouls 5½ minutes into the game. The Orange led 32:18 at halftime, having scored 7 of 18 shots beyond the 3-point arc. Overall, Syracuse shot 44 percent off the field (12 of 29).
Pitt finished half-time with more turnovers (10) than shots (six) and only had an assist in the last minute. The Panthers took a break with a 21.4 percent share of shots (6 of 28) after missing 11 of 12 3-point attempts.
Jerry DiPaola is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or on Twitter.
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