With 4.4 seconds left in a barnburner at the Petersen Event Center, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon had a choice.
After recapturing the lead, 56-55, against No. 1 Syracuse, by way of two free throws by Talib Zanna, No. 25 Pittsburgh could either send two defenders at Tyler Ennis, who would try to push the ball the length of the court with no timeouts left, or it could try to force Ennis to one side and meet him at half court and try to force a bad shot.
Dixon chose the latter.
Since 2002—when “The Pete” opened—nine top-five teams have entered and all nine left disappointed. In fact, the last time Syracuse traveled to Pittsburgh as an undefeated team was Jan. 17, 2011. On that date, No. 5 Pittsburgh hosted No. 3 Syracuse, which was 18-0. The only 19-0 that would occur was the 19-0 run that Pittsburgh started the game with in a 74-66 win for the Panthers.
In seven previous tries, the Orange could only muster one victory at The Pete, which was on Feb. 29, 2004, in a 49-46 overtime Syracuse win. The oddness of the date seemed to fit the moment as it was the first time any team managed a victory in the Panthers’ new home.
Once again, however, it looked as if Dixon would send the Orange home with their first blemish of the season.
That is, until Mr. Clutch Ennis made his move.
Coming into the game, Ennis had not committed a turnover or missed a free throw in the final five minutes-plus-overtime of any game this season. With 3:17 left in regulation, he ended that streak. At that point, Ennis had succeeded in sinking only two baskets for the entire game, one in each half.
With 4.4 seconds left, it was redemption time.
With Syracuse not having any timeouts after Zanna’s free throws, Dixon called a timeout to prepare his defense, but also allowed Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to draw up a play of his own.
Coming out of the Pitt timeout, Boeheim wanted C.J. Fair to be the first option, with Ennis being the second. Jerami Grant was the inbound passer and could not find Fair, who was well defended, so he put the game in Ennis’ hands.
With the defense funneling Ennis to the right and meeting him with a double team with a little more than one second left, he could not risk a pass and heaved a 40-foot shot as time expired.
Ennis’ first three-point attempt of the season in the final five minutes of a game fell through the net and gave Syracuse one of its most memorable wins in team history. The shot caused the entire Syracuse bench, including Boeheim, to throw up their hands as if they were receiving manna from the heavens.
And manna might not be too far off, in the form of No. 44.
The number 44 holds a special place in the hearts of Syracuse fans and alum. Ernie Davis, Jim Brown and Floyd Little wore it as football players, among others. Derrick Coleman and John Wallace also wore it. Syracuse fans will remember Wallace’s heroics in 1996 wearing No. 44, particularly, his three-pointer against Georgia in the Sweet Sixteen to steal a win from the Bulldogs.
Syracuse retired No. 44 in 2005, and it seemed that the number would remain a closed chapter of Orange lore. That was until Wednesday night, when No. 44 reminded the Orange that it was still around, but this time, it took on a new form.
That form was 4.4…
…seconds, that is.
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