Pitt flounders in second half, losses 77-61 at Syracuse


AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pitt head coach Jeff Capel calls to his team as they play against Boston College during the second half of the game on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Pittsburgh.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

For the first time in a while, Pitt men’s basketball got blown out. It’s not something they’ve made a habit of in recent weeks, but their third double-digit loss came on the heels of a breakthrough win vs. Boston College last weekend and in deflating fashion to a Syracuse team that was undermanned and has been largely disappointing so far this season.

Pitt (6-10 overall, 1-4 ACC) started strong but floundered late against the Orange (8-8 overall, 2-4 ACC) on Tuesday night at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse outscored the Panthers 42-29 over the course of the final 24 minutes of play, cruising to its second win in ACC play by a final score of 77-61.

Even though it was the offense that stalled out in the latter part of the game, head coach Jeff Capel harped on defense in his postgame press conference. He said the Panthers could have withstood their difficulties scoring if they hadn’t been as poor on the defensive end.

“I thought our offense not being able to make shots and turning the basketball over really affected our defense,” Capel said. “And we didn’t defend well for the last part of the first half or the whole second half, which led to us being very poor on offense.”

Following the last media timeout of the first half, Syracuse went on a 24-5 run that spanned periods and lasted almost nine minutes. By the 11-minute mark of the second half, Pitt hadn’t made a shot in its last eight attempts. By the seven-minute mark, they had managed to find the bottom of the net on just one of their last 15 shots and were down by 20.

Syracuse senior guard Buddy Boeheim shredded the Panther defense all evening, and finished with 24 points on 7-13 shooting and a 5-8 mark from 3-point distance. Pitt was unable to contain the star guard, who scored from all three levels and matched every big shot his opponents made.

The Panthers played good offense of their own to start. Before the cold streak, they were scoring 1.231 points per possession, a blistering rate for the team that would have been a single-game high had it lasted. In the absence of any meaningful pressure from the Orange defense, the Pitt offense was to keep moving enough to stay within striking distance.

Graduate forward Mouhamadou Gueye continued his recent hot streak by making his first three shots, all from close range. He flirted with a double-double in the first half, scoring nine points and collecting six rebounds in addition to a block.

Senior guard Jamarius Burton and sophomore guard Femi Odukale also fueled perhaps the best offensive half the team has played all season. They made four 3-pointers on seven attempts, and combined to score 20 points in the first 20 minutes.

Odukale hit a 3-pointer that capped a nearly three-minute long 10-0 run that gave Pitt its first lead at 27-25 with 5:57 left in the opening period. In fact, the Panthers would go up by as many as seven, the second largest lead they’ve held in an ACC game this season. But like they have in many previous conference contests, Pitt surrendered that healthy lead.

Capel and Gueye both said the Panthers’ level of competitiveness, something that they had done well to maintain through difficult moments this season so far, was lacking in the second half, and it was most evident on defense. Capel called that fact “the biggest disappointment” of the evening and Gueye — one of the more experienced players on the roster — said he shoulders the blame.

“We just didn’t play hard,” Gueye said. “I’ll take responsibility. There were plays where I let the offense affect us on defense. … We can’t let that determine the game.”

Sophomore forward John Hugley was surprisingly quiet against the Orange. After a 32-point, 13-rebound outburst against Boston College, Hugley mustered just eight points on 1-6 shooting and eight boards over 28 minutes and picked up four fouls. The trademark Syracuse zone flustered Pitt’s star big man and forced him to play away from the low block, where he thrives as a scorer and facilitator.

Pitt followed up a key victory over Boston College with a lackluster result against a team that it needed to beat in order to have any chance at making some noise in conference play. The Panthers will now look forward to taking another crack at Louisville, who they lost to by just three points less than a week ago.

Pitt will host the Cardinals for a 4 p.m. tipoff on Saturday at the Petersen Events Center. The ACC Network will broadcast the game.