Created on Saturday, 02 February 2013 22:02 Written by RJ Sepich / Sports Editor
Winners expect to win.
When the Pitt men’s basketball team knocked off No. 6 Syracuse by a score of 65-55 on Saturday afternoon, it certainly didn’t come as a surprise to the Panthers or their fans.
While many student fan bases around the country have made a habit of rushing the court after victories against highly ranked opposition, Pitt’s rowdy Oakland Zoo student section refrained following the home team’s triumph over the top-10 Orange.
The Zoo — after many of its members began lining up Friday afternoon in the Petersen Events Center lobby, listening to music and playing video games to pass the time during the overnight slumber party in anticipation of Pitt’s biggest home game of the season — expected its Panthers to win. Pitt entered the matchup with Syracuse with a 9-3 record against the Orange during Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon’s tenure and an 11-1 record against top-10 teams at home under Dixon.
After the game, Dixon and his players seemed pleased not only with their victory, but also that there was no post-game human stampede on the Pete court.
Senior point guard Tray Woodall said that knowing your fans expect success is something that motivates the Panthers to perform well at home.
“We’re all happy to be a part of this community,” he said. “We were ecstatic last night knowing the fans were sleeping in the gym. A lot of our guys probably wanted to sleep with them. When we see them ready to go, we have no choice but to get up for games like this.”
His teammates all nodded and smiled as their senior leader thanked the Zoo and the entire Pitt fanbase.
Winners play as a team.
Using a 10-man rotation, Pitt wore down Syracuse’s seven players.
Until the very last minute of the game, during which Woodall converted several free throws, not a single Panther had made double-figure scoring. To beat a top-10 team without any one player taking over offensively is truly incredible, but that’s what Pitt has become this season.
“This team is unique,” Dixon said. “Our strength is in playing 10 guys. It’s not normal, but it’s what’s best for us. It’s why we’ve improved so much and gotten so much better.”
This wasn’t a new phenomenon. No Panther averages more than 12 points per game, yet not one averages less than four points per game.
In a sports era in which individuals steal the limelight, Pitt still requires a total team effort to squeeze out tight victories.
Winners close games out.
Coming down the stretch of back-and-forth contests, oftentimes teams need a go-to scorer to take over and put up points to pull out the game.
That isn’t the case with the Panthers – they just need guys who can make free throws.
After losing games against Marquette and Louisville because of horrendous foul shooting, it appeared the issue might come back to bite the Panthers yet again after they missed three of their first six free throws against Syracuse.
Then with about four minutes remaining and Pitt up by five, freshman center Steven Adams got fouled attacking the rim but left the game because of a swollen eye.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim had the choice of which Panther on the floor would shoot the two crucial free throws. He chose redshirt sophomore guard Cameron Wright, who was previously 0-for-4 from the foul line in conference play.
With the pressure on him, Wright stepped up and confidently drained both shots. The Panthers paced the remainder of the game, going 9-for-13 from the free-throw line in the game’s final minutes to hold off the Orange’s fruitless comeback attempt.
“We’ve lost a number of close games, but you can’t panic,” Dixon said. “[Shooting free throws] is a constant battle.”
If the Panthers start hitting more of those crunch-time free throws and converting more open shots, the potential for this team is incredible.
The confidence and depth Pitt boasts can’t be found in many teams in college basketball.
And while excited about the victory, Dixon summed up his team’s emotions after the game in one sentence.
“I think every game is a must-win game,” he said, emphasizing Pitt’s expect-to-win attitude.
On this Saturday afternoon, Pitt and its fans proved that despite last season’s struggles and this year’s ups and downs, the Panthers’ men’s basketball program is full of winners.