Orange end Pitt’s season in ACC Tournament second round, 73-59


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Senior forward Jared Wilson-Frame (4), pictured here against Duke, made eight of 16 3-pointers for a game-high 24 points in his final college game against Syracuse Wednesday night.

By Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Pitt men’s basketball closed its 2018-2019 campaign on Wednesday night, falling to the Syracuse Orange 73-59 in the second round of the ACC Tournament. A historic shooting performance from senior guard Jared Wilson-Frame wasn’t enough to contend with the Orange’s suffocating length and the young Panthers were sent packing.

It was announced hours before tip-off that the Orange would be without junior guard and leading scorer Tyus Battle. His absence was felt immediately as the Panthers, who showed great energy despite playing their second game in 26 hours, found soft spots in the vaunted Syracuse zone defense early.

First-year guard Au’Diese Toney nailed a short 2-point jumper to open scoring, then Wilson-Frame made the first of his Pitt-tournament-record eight 3-point baskets and the Panthers jumped out to a 5-0 lead less than two minutes in.

With just under three and a half minutes having run off, Wilson-Frame made his second 3-pointer, giving the Panthers a one-point edge that would not be relinquished for the rest of the half. Pitt remained in control until the intermission, extending its lead to as many as 10.  

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In the opening period, Wilson-Frame carried the load offensively for Pitt, collecting 18 points while shooting 6-9 from 3-point range. The rest of the Panthers shot only 4-15 on their first half field goals. However, Pitt’s stingy defense made up for their lack of explosive offense.

A traditional Pitt-Syracuse rock fight saw the Orange shoot only 35 percent from the field. Effective as Pitt’s aggression on defense was, it also them into some foul trouble. Both teams combined to force 15 turnovers, but were also whistled for 19 fouls.

Stout defense and some pinpoint shooting resulted in a 36-30 lead for the Panthers at halftime. The Orange had no answer for Wilson-Frame, who nailed another 3-pointer with 19 seconds left in the half.

After a disappointing first half, the sixth-seeded Orange came out of the locker room with renewed energy on both ends of the court.

First-year guard Buddy Boeheim led the charge for Syracuse. He scored with a short floater then a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to give his squad its first lead since the 16:28 mark of the first half.

But Boeheim wasn’t done yet. He nailed another 3-point jumper and forced Pitt head coach Jeff Capel to call timeout following Syracuse’s 8-0 blitz to open the half.

The game proceeded to move at a glacial pace, with both teams getting bogged down by fouls. Eventually, 3-pointers from junior forward Elijah Hughes and senior guard Frank Howard helped extend the Orange lead to six with 12:43 left to play.

Boeheim continued to pour it on, spinning home a layup through contact to convert on the old-fashioned 3-point play. Graduate transfer guard Sidy N’Dir responded with three points of his own, but that six-point deficit was the closest Pitt would get.

From that point on, the Panthers made only three field goals and Syracuse took advantage of a high foul count to waste the game away by shooting free throws.

The Orange made terrific second half adjustments to keep the ball out of Wilson-Frame’s hands and after masterfully moving the ball around and through the Syracuse zone for 20 minutes, the same hapless Panther offense that showed in their two regular season losses to the Orange returned to form.

Senior center Paschal Chukwu had a monster game inside for Syracuse. The seven-foot-two Nigerian native collected seven points to go with nine rebounds and six blocks. His presence in the paint did what Boston College couldn’t do a night ago — keep Pitt’s dynamic guards out of the lane.

While Syracuse had to overcome a higher profile injury to Battle, Pitt also dealt with limited frontcourt depth after junior forward Kene Chukwuka was ruled out with a back injury. Chukwuka’s size, pick-and-roll play and defensive aptitude was sorely missed by the Panthers, who were unable to effectively attack Syracuse’s big men down the stretch.  

After combining for 49 points against the Eagles a night ago, first-year guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens combined for only seven points on 3-16 shooting from the floor. McGowens was particularly absent and didn’t even attempt a field goal until only 14:43 remained in the game.

For Syracuse, Hughes and Howard both scored 18 points apiece on a combined 9-16 shooting from distance and did not miss from the free throw line. Boeheim was also outstanding, scoring 20 points while chipping in six rebounds and four assists.

Only two Panthers scored in double figures, and for both it was likely in their final collegiate game. Wilson-Frame seemingly saved his best for last. The senior didn’t leave the floor and finished with 24 points and seven rebounds in his final appearance for Pitt. N’Dir, a graduate transfer who is seeking another year of eligibility from the NCAA, scored 10 points.

Syracuse, who is still battling for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, will continue its march through the ACC Tournament and meet Duke in the next round. The Orange will have their hands full as first-year superstar forward Zion Williamson is expected to make his return from injury for the Blue Devils.

For the Panthers, their season comes to a close at a record of 14-19. Capel and his staff will turn to offseason recruiting of new talent and development of present talent. While these Panthers showed fight and flashes of brilliance, this rebuild has a long way to go and fans will have to wait until November to watch the next chapter unfold.