Panthers fall at home to rival Orange 68-60

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Panthers fall at home to rival Orange 68-60

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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Having played three out of its last four games against ranked teams, the Pitt women’s basketball team might have been used to facing top-tier competition on Thursday night.

But that experience did not help the Panthers against No. 22 Syracuse.

After beating Georgia Tech in overtime in their last game, the Panthers (12-6, 2-3 ACC) played another close game, this time with a different result as they lost to the Orange by a score of 68-60 at the Petersen Events Center.

Ten seconds into the game, junior guard Brianna Butler of Syracuse set the tone for her team when she hit a 3-pointer to give the Orange (14-5, 4-2 ACC) a quick lead.

Both teams played sloppy basketball early, combining for 10 turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game. Still, Syracuse led 15-8 with 12:54 left in the first half.

“This was a heartbreaker,” head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio said. “We didn’t defend the way we needed to defend.”

With the shot clock running down with 12:00 in the half, senior guard Brianna Kiesel banked in a 3-pointer from straightaway to cut the deficit to 15-11. Kiesel had seven of the team’s first 11 points and finished with 14 points, tacking on a team-high eight assists.

Pitt was effective on the boards early, grabbing seven offensive rebounds compared to Syracuse’s one. But the Panthers could not convert many of those boards into second-chance points.

Their rebounding success wavered in the second half, when Syracuse consistently grabbed offensive rebounds off of its own missed free throws. A stretch of Syracuse offensive boards late iced the game for the visitors, who tied the Panthers with 40 total rebounds apiece.

“We didn’t box out as well as we could have,” freshman forward Stasha Carey said. “That’s something we’re definitely going to work on in practice.”

Pitt made only one of its 10 3-point shot attempts in the first half. The team finished with a 26 percent 3-point shooting rate.

Both teams combined for 19 turnovers in a sloppy, often fast-paced half, but the Orange never relinquished their early lead in the half.

Syracuse center Briana Day picked up her third foul early in the second half during an 8-0 Pitt run, but Orange head coach Quentin Hillsman kept the sophomore in the game.

After jumping out to a hot 75 percent shooting clip, the Orange settled down to finish at 41 percent shooting.

The Panthers tied the game for the first time at 34-34 with 15:40 remaining in the contest.

Following that, Syracuse employed a full-court press in an effort to force Kiesel to turn the ball over, but the Panthers broke it easily, crossing the court after only a few seconds of facing the press.

Still, Monica Wignot, a graduate student forward, said that the press “didn’t allow us to run our offense as smoothly.”

“When we execute offenses and run plays, that’s when we’re successful,” Wignot said. “We see Syracuse again down the line, so we’ll learn from this, and hopefully next time we’ll be well-prepared.”

After the teams exchanged baskets for a few minutes, two quick 3-pointers from Wignot brought the crowd to its feet, giving the Panthers a two-point lead with 12:00 left to play.

Wignot had her best series of the night when she blocked Diamond Henderson on one end, ran to the corner of the 3-point line in transition and hit her second consecutive deep ball to tie the score at 52. She finished the game with a team-high 16 points and four blocks.

“I definitely had some help getting open,” Wignot said. “The guards did a good job of penetrating and kicking and looking for me on the perimeter.”

But, despite grabbing a few offensive rebounds late, the Panthers just could not finish the plays and get baskets when it counted.

“Give them credit. They were able to make plays down the stretch and hit shots,” McConnell-Serio said. “We just needed to hit shots. Once they got a four-point lead, we just couldn’t close the gap. This is a very disappointing loss.”

Carey said this experience could help the team later in the season.

“It helps us in the long run. It’s going to help us when we get to tournaments,” she said.

Wignot added that “we’re only going to get better if we play the best.”

Pitt next plays on Saturday against Boston College at the Petersen Events Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.


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