Tyler Ennis prepares to throw up what would end up being the game-winning shot against Pittsburgh
In what many thought had the potential to be Syracuse's first loss this season, a Wednesday night visit to the Petersen Events Center to play Pittsburgh provided all the hype and drama that a Rivalry Week game possibly could.
The Orange trailed for the majority of the game courtesy of clutch shooting from a banged up Lamar Patterson and a nitty-gritty performance from Talib Zanna on the inside.
Syracuse was significantly outrebounded on the offensive glass, in part because of the absence of Baye Moussa Keita due to a sprained right knee suffered against Clemson on Sunday.
But as he did last time out against the Panthers, freshman sensation Tyler Ennis came up huge on the Orange's last two possessions, salvaging Syracuse's undefeated season.
In a game many will remember for one play, here are five takeaways from a wild game between Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Michael Gbinije was the only Syracuse reserve to see time in this matchup. That's right. The Orange only went six deep and still managed to pull out a victory.
With DaJuan Coleman out for the year, along with Wednesday's absence of Keita, Syracuse was limited down low. Luckily for the Orange, Rakeem Christmas or Jerami Grant didn't get in any serious foul trouble early on. Normally, freshman Tyler Roberson would see time at the power forward spot, but that wasn't the case Wednesday night.
All is fine in Syracuse if the starters can stay out of foul trouble, but if that becomes a problem, the Orange's lack of depth could be a significant Achilles' heel come March.
Lamar Patterson hit a three from Narnia. He penetrated the top of Syracuse's zone, drew a foul on Christmas and made the basket. He hit another three.
Just imagine if his main shooting hand was healthy.
Patterson wore a protective covering at the base of his right thumb, but he still scored 14 points, with four rebounds and four assists. Those aren't eye-opening numbers, but in a low-scoring game, that's enough to be the difference between a win and a loss. It's only a matter of time before Patterson ends up on the good side of one of these games against a top team.
Even with a bum thumb, he led the offensive charge late in the game to Pittsburgh's second near-upset of Syracuse this year.
With a completely healthy Patterson, the Panthers have one of the most dangerous players in the country.
Syracuse was mauled on the offensive glass by a count of 16-6. The absence of Keita was certainly felt, as the Orange had to pray Christmas or Grant didn't get into foul trouble.
Christmas did end up with four fouls, but the fourth didn't come until late in the second half. Grant had three, but because Christmas played 35 minutes, the power forward didn't have to play out of position at center for very long.
Keita is only averaging 3.6 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game, but he provides a tenacity down low that is unparalleled by any other player on the team. If Keita's importance to the team wasn't magnified when Coleman was ruled out for the year, it certainly is now.
Against teams like Pittsburgh with players like Zanna who can be game-changers on the low block, a body like Keita's can make all the difference. That alone could mean the continuation or end of a season come tournament time.
Just like Duke skyrocketed in the rankings after a heartbreaking loss to Syracuse, Pittsburgh deserves to do the same. This performance against Syracuse proved that it's a top-20 team, if not better.
Yes, Pittsburgh has five losses, but all of them have come to Top 25 teams.
The Panthers have lost twice to the best team in the country by a combined seven points. Two of its other three losses have come by three points to No. 17 Virginia and by one point to No. 10 Cincinnati.
The only concern for Jamie Dixon's squad seems to be its inconsistent offensive production. But if Pittsburgh is able to hold teams to under 60 points, it has as good of a chance to win as its opponent on any day of the week.
Calm. Composed. Clutch.
Two free throws to put Syracuse up by two with 10.4 seconds left, followed by a buzzer-beating three-pointer are just the latest of senior-like plays Ennis has been making all season.
"Coach said to get as far as you can down the court and make a play," Ennis told ESPN's Dave O'Brien and Doris Burke after the game."With the time running down, I just decided to take the shot."
Critics point to his lack of flashiness compared to that of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Others note how he only scores 11.8 points per game, compared to Parker's 19.2 and Wiggins' 16.0.
His 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio should speak for itself.
In the final five minutes of the second half and overtime this year, Ennis is 8-of-9 from the field, 1-of-1 from beyond the arc, 14-of-14 from the foul line and has six assists with no turnovers.
There is no player, let alone point guard, who has the ability to dictate the tempo at which his team plays more than Ennis. There is no player who has shown late-game composure in pressure-packed situations more than Ennis.
There is no freshman in the country better than Tyler Ennis.