I wasn't able to watch the Syracuse-Pittsburgh game yesterday, but I am able to catch a replay on ESPN360.com thanks to Sean Keeley of NunesMagician.com . Please allow me to share my thoughts as I view the first half of the game for the first time.
TIP OFF — FIRST MEDIA TIMEOUT
- It appears as though Syracuse is ready to go right out of the gate. They are distributing the ball well with some inside-outside passing and have the game's first three field goals. Jamie Dixon has just called timeout less than three minutes in as the Orange are out to a 6-0 lead. A large Carrier Dome crowd is on their feet. Things couldn't be going any better. Boy, do I ever hate knowing what the end result of this one is.
- A nice backdoor cut away from the ball by Jermaine Dixon goes unnoticed as he comes from the top of the key to the paint. He is fed for a layup and Pittsburgh has figured out a way to score against the zone, movement away from the ball. He then drives the lane with the ball on the next possession and draws a foul from a lazy Orange defense that was slow to get back from a missed field goal at the other end. This could become a pattern.
- Rick Jackson draws a double-team on the left low-block, then fires a pass to the opposite wing for an Andy Rautins trifecta. The Pittsburgh D had been more worried about the block-to-block dish for Arinze Onuaku. Great recognition by Jackson, that's a layup for Rautins. The Orange lead 9-4 at the first official's whistle.
15:39 — SECOND MEDIA TIMEOUT
- An energized Orange D quickly forces a turnover. Wes Johnson gets a great look at a three, but misses. Still, momentum belongs to Syracuse.
- Dixon hits a long, contested three-pointer to energize Pittsburgh. He is a pest for Syracuse thus far, scoring all seven of the Panthers' points. He needs to break his foot again.
- A beautiful feed from Andy Rautins results in Onuaku getting fouled on a missed dunk. He makes one-of-two and the Orange take a 10-7 lead. Enter Kris Joseph.
- Dixon narrowly misses a three-pointer to tie it. Words cannot describe how much I hate him at this moment. Unlike his last attempt, this one was unattested as a result of a drive-and-kick. Good break for Syracuse, but it looks like Onuaku took a shot to the eye on the rebound. He's headed to the bench.
- Poor entry pass from Rautins trying to feed the right low block from the top of the arc. Announcer Scott Graham says, "you can't make an entry pass from there," but 'Cuse fans have seen Rautins do it plenty of times— just not this time. Gibbs hits the shot of his life at the other end to tie it 10-10. Pittsburgh is settling for the outside shot— which is what Syracuse wants— but they've hit two very big perimeter shots to stay in it. Scoop Jardine gets whistled for over-and-back, the Orange are officially in a funk.
- Pittsburgh gets three good looks at the basket, but cannot convert to take the lead. Syracuse finally gets a rebound and Johnson flushes it the other way in transition, a five-point swing since Gibbs could have knocked down an open three for Pitt. The Orange D gets another steal, but Rautins misses a long three the other way. Pitt comes right back and tries to penetrate the zone with passes to the elbow, but Wes Johnson takes a charge when one of the Panthers tries to drive baseline. The Panthers still can't consistently break through the zone, Orange lead 12-10 at the second TV break.
10:39 — THE HALF
- Onuaku returns from having his eye tended to. He immediately posts up and connects on a left-handed jump-hook. Woodall settles for a horrible three-point try for Pitt and then fouls Triche in transition. Momentum fully favors Syracuse as Triche hits both shots to give the Orange a 16-10 lead. Pitt turns it over almost as soon as they get into the front court, and Jardine lays it in to put Syracuse up by eight. Timeout, Pittsburgh. Again, the crowd is on their feet and it perplexes me that Syracuse finds a way to lose this game.
- Pittsburgh isn't playing any better coming out of the break, they've continued to take perimeter shots and are now 3-for-15 from the field. Still, the route is not on. Syracuse could have really seized the game during the first ten minutes, but had some silly turnovers with the Jardine over-and-back and the poor-angle entry pass by Rautins.
- A nifty screen-and-curl play off the inbounds allows Rautins (screened for) to whip a one-handed laser pass at Jackson (screener, curler), but he misses the dunk. Again, this is Syracuse not seizing the game. However, they are able to get the ball back down to Onuaku for a lefty baby-hook, and the lead is to 10.
- Pittsburgh takes yet another three, but this time Gibbs connects. Rautins got a hand in his face, but it didn't matter, 20-13 Orange. He hits another on the next trip down— this time he's wide open— and it's 22-16. Rick Jackson is called for a charge at the other end, a horrible call as the defender was standing underneath the basket and had not set his feet. Of course, ESPN analyst Mike Kelley says his feet were set. He belongs on radio, where we have to believe what he says.
- Pittsburgh gets another wide open look from three, but misses. Onuaku gets away with a travel at the other end as he misses another turnaround hook. Syracuse is out of sync again. They get beat down the floor and Dixon makes a layup to cut it to 22-18. A theme is developing, when the Orange struggle offensively, they lose focus defensively. Onuaku is now whistled for a blatant push-off, well away from the ball. Frustration fouls are not what Syracuse needs when a once 10-point lead is slowly shrinking.
- Pittsburgh makes a foolish turnover on a double-dribble. Wesley Johnson decides to get the offense going by himself, hitting a tough turnaround jumped from nine feet, with a defender right in his grill. Syracuse gets a stop at the other end despite allowing an offensive rebound, and order appears to be restored. Rautins was fouled while hauling down the rebound; he hits both free throws. Syracuse leads 26-18.
- Dixon goes back to what worked for his first field goal, a backdoor cut away from the ball. He again goes unnoticed and gets fed for an easy layup, 26-20 Syracuse. I'm wondering if coach Jamie Dixon is going to order his talented guard to continue exploiting that weakness in the second half. Syracuse gets sloppy at the other end and has an entry pass poked away. Taylor slams home a missed layup by Dixon in transition and Pitt is within four.
- Rautins dribbles around a screen and airballs a long three. He was really trying to force something there, much the way Johnson did earlier with his short turnaround humped. Ashton Gibbs then hits another long three to cut the lead to one. Boeheim isn't going to wait for the TV timeout now, he'll take his own. Syracuse leads 26-25.
- The Orange run a beautiful pick-and-roll off the timeout, with Joseph getting a flush to push the lead to three. Boeheim shows the kids that the system can get the offense rolling again just as well as a one-on-one move, if not better. The Orange get a stop and Scoop narrowly misses a jumped after a spin move to free himself at the elbow. Jackson gets the offensive board, but his put-back attempt rolls off the rim. Tough break for Syracuse, that would have recaptured momentum and livened up the crowd.
- Scoop intercepts a bad pass at the defensive end and lobs the ball down court to Rautins. Andy misses yet another three attempt, this has just not been his half. The teams trade baskets to make it 30-27 Syracuse. Woodall gets another open look to try and tie it, but misses. The Orange get called for a reach-in foul with less than four seconds left in the half. Incredibly, it's the first opportunity the officials have had to call for the media timeout inside four minutes. Coming out of that break, Pittsburgh misses a jumper at the buzzer and we go to the half with Syracuse leading 30-27.
SUMMARY: Without viewing the second half, I can already tell that this is the kind if loss that is going to gnaw at me for the remainder of the season. Pittsburgh is still in this game because of one man, Ashton Gibbs. He hit four-of-six from long range to account for nearly half of his team's first-half points.
Syracuse has distributed the ball fairly well through 20 minutes. Andy Rautins is not having his best game tonight. He's had a few shots that, had they gone down, would have driven a stake through the heart of the Panthers. Couple that with a few bad turnovers, and you've got a case of a superior Orange team allowing an opponent to hang around. It will cost them. I can wait to watch that part.