Jeter’s 18 points off the bench vaults Pitt to 83-77 victory over Syracuse


When Cameron Wright fell to the floor of Petersen Events Center after having his layup attempt blocked from behind, the tumble seemed innocuous. Then the redshirt senior took time to get up before limping back on defense.  

Suddenly, on its first possession of Saturday evening’s game against Syracuse, it appeared the Pitt men’s basketball team and head coach Jamie Dixon had been dealt yet another injury blow in a season with a few significant ones already.

Short-handed following senior forward Aron Phillips-Nwankwo’s season-ending labrum tear last week and Cameron Johnson’s season-ending shoulder injury in December, Pitt would need added production from its bench and remaining starters if it had, indeed, lost Wright.

“It’s just been a constant shuffling of the deck,” Dixon said.

For the next three minutes or so, it seemed as though the guard might play through whatever after effects lingered, as the Orange (15-8, 6-4 ACC) went on 9-2 run. But once subbed out at 16:27, he wouldn’t return, having hurt his left ankle, near the same body part he broke in September: his left foot.

After the game, Dixon did not know the severity of the injury and thus declined to speculate on how long Wright is out for.

Pitt recovered from that sluggish start and the loss of one of its leaders thanks to a career-high 18-point performance by sophomore reserve Sheldon Jeter, and double digit offensive efforts by four of his teammates, coming back to beat the Orange, 83-77, for its third straight win.

Junior point guard James Robinson had a frank explanation for his team’s success, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances. 

“Guys stepped up,” Robinson said.

Jeter’s doing so was perhaps the most unexpected, but the general mindset he applies towards his substitute role fit the scenario he found himself in.

“Whatever time I get, just make the most of it,” Jeter said.

He and his teammates did that, but the strong, collective showing by the Panthers (16-8, 5-5 ACC)  took some time to materialize, Jeter scoring 15 of his total in the second half and the hosts not tying it until less than a minute to go before halftime and not leading until 13:29 remained in the game. 

Causing these initial struggles was an inability to get inside the Orange’s dense 2-3 zone, settling instead for long-distance jumpers and 3-pointers,  which yielded poor results. Besides James Robinson, who made 3-6 3-point attempts in the first half, Pitt shot 1-9 from that distance.

But a 38.7 percent success rate from the field overall allowed the Panthers to stay close despite their struggles, down by as many as 10 with after 13 minutes gone, to enter halftime down just a basket, 40-38.  

Robinson had 13 points by halftime, a total he’d finish with.

Two Syracuse players, Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije, reached double figure scoring well before the break, amassing 10 and 13, respectively.

They’d each finish with a game-high 23. Christmas grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds as well.   

The dynamic of the contest changed quickly once play resumed. Syracuse picked up the six fouls required to put Pitt in the bonus in little over three minutes.

The whistles continued to blow the rest of the game.

Given an opening, with the opposition neutralized, redshirt sophomore Chris Jones seized it, converting back-to-back three’s to tie the contest at 49 soon after.  

A starter for much of the season, Jones came off the bench to play 30 minutes in Wright’s absence, scoring 15 to combine with Jeter for all 33 of their team’s bench points, outscoring Syracuse’s second unit by 30.

 Dixon was, unsurprisingly, pleased with his performance.  

“[We] talked to him about talking shots, being aggressive,” he said. 

Pitt shot 58.6 percent from the field in the second half.

Control flipped back and forth eight more times after that point, the teams drawing even six times.

Courtesy of Jamel Artis, the Panthers had the final say. The sophomore forward, who finished with a team-high 20 points, made a layup with 2:19 to retake the lead for his squad one last time. He and Jeter would score the team’s last nine points to secure victory.