The second-ranked Syracuse Orange kept their undefeated record intact after hanging on to beat No. 22 Pitt 59-54 on Saturday.
The former Big East rivals showed that conference realignment has not taken the competitiveness out of this matchup. The two slugged it out for 40 minutes of back-and-forth action, with players on both sides hitting clutch shots.
In a game loaded with great seniors, it was a freshman who sealed the win for Syracuse. With less than a minute left, point guard Tyler Ennis sliced through the Pitt defense and finished at the rim to help propel his team to victory.
Ennis was the best player on the court on Saturday, finishing with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field. He also hit 5-of-6 from the free throw line and added three assists for Jim Boeheim's club, prompting Andy Katz of ESPN to call him the most important freshman in the nation.
No debate. Tyler Ennis the most important freshman as he leads Syracuse to 18-0, best team in the ACC.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) January 18, 2014
Despite the loss, Pitt put on an impressive display, and Seth Davis of CBS Sports said he believes they are still a top three team in the ACC.
Great great effort by Pitt. Definitely a top three team in the ACC.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) January 18, 2014
After the game, Boeheim said the showdown with Pitt was reminiscent of their past battles in the Big East Conference (h/t Chip Patterson, CBS Sports).
“This was a Big East game. Forget about the ACC, that was a war” — Jim Boeheim after Syracuse’s 59-54 win vs. Pitt— Chip Patterson (@Chip_Patterson) January 18, 2014
With the win, the Orange improve to 18-0 (5-0 ACC) and remain atop the ACC standings. They now have a week off before they travel to Miami next Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Panthers dropped just their second game of the season. They now sit at 16-2 (4-1 ACC) heading into their matchup with Clemson on Tuesday.
Tyler Ennis - G, Syracuse
The young point guard was cool and composed throughout the game, showing no signs of the immaturity you might expect from a 19-year-old court general. He got to the rim at will, he was efficient with the ball, and ultimately, he was the difference maker in his team's toughest game of the season.
C.J. Fair - F, Syracuse
The ACC Preseason Player of the Year was solid on Saturday, going 5-of-11 from the field to finish with 13 points. He also added six rebounds and three blocks.
However, he only hit 2-of-6 from the free throw line. The Orange will need him to be better at the line, especially in close games against conference opponents such as Pitt.
Trevor Cooney - G, Syracuse
Cooney is the second-leading scorer for the Orange, but he struggled mightily on Saturday. The sophomore guard hit just 2-of-8 shots from the field (all three-pointers) for six points.
Syracuse was lucky to get a win without his usually-hot shooting.
Lamar Patterson - F, Pitt
The Panthers' leading scorer put up some big numbers again on Saturday, finishing with 18 points. He hit 6-of-15 shots from the field, including 4-of-9 from downtown. All four of his threes came in the second half.
Unfortunately for Patterson, he missed a crucial free throw with 2.7 seconds left, all but sealing the victory for the Orange.
Talib Zanna - F, Pitt
The big man was a monster down low for the Panthers, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end. If Zanna continues to play at such a high level, he will be a nightmare for opposing post players.