Pitt loses to Syracuse on half-court game-winner

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By Tyler Pecyna | Assistant Sports Editor

Head coach Jamie Dixon almost instantly saw his defense executing properly. He watched as the final play unfolded exactly how he wanted, with Cameron Wright closing in from the side of Tyler Ennis and Josh Newkirk mirroring the freshman guard from Syracuse..

“I thought we guarded it about as well as you could guard it,” Dixon said. “We made him catch it as deep as you could on the baseline, which is what we wanted to do.”

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim didn’t like what he saw as Ennis caught an inbounds pass a court’s length away from the basket with 4.4 seconds remaining and the undefeated Orange trailing 56-55.

“I wanted to throw the ball [downcourt],” Boeheim said. “I thought that was our best chance.”

Ennis went right, then cut back hard to his left, using the narrow space he created against Newkirk to dash farther upcourt. With the weight of Syracuse’s No. 1 ranking and undefeated season on his 19-year-old shoulders, Ennis halted his freight-like momentum, unspooled a high-arcing shot from well beyond the 3-point line and crouched, waiting for the result — swoosh.

Dixon liked what he saw early, Boeheim didn’t, but it was Ennis who nailed the result Syracuse wanted, draining the shot and leading the top-ranked Orange to a 58-56 triumph Wednesday night at the Petersen Events Center.

“I don’t think those shots are going to go in, really, I never do,” Boeheim said. “When he shot it, I saw his release, I saw the ball. I thought it was going in, honestly.”

Ennis had brought his team back earlier, calmly sinking two free throws while trailing by a point and 10 seconds to play — all while facing a vicious Oakland crowd that knew the intensity of the situation. And yet he was the backup plan with the game again on the line.

“The last play, we wanted to go long to C.J. [Fair], the second option was Tyler [Ennis],” Boeheim said. “There was enough time to dribble down.”

There was enough time for a player of Ennis’ caliber, explosive enough to shake defenders unexpectedly but controlled enough to finish with a clean shooting form.

“There were two guys around me,” said Ennis, who finished with 13 points and five assists, “but I knew I could get open for a split second.”

That brief opening was all it took for the Orange (24-0, 11-0 ACC) to finally pull ahead of the Panthers (20-5, 8-4 ACC), who held a nine-point advantage with 15 minutes to play. Pitt controlled the glass, too, picking up a 35-24 rebounding edge.

Fifth-year senior Talib Zanna corralled 14 of those boards and added 16 points, teaming with Lamar Patterson, who scored 14, as the only Panthers in double-digit points.

But the Panthers’ veteran leaders were outshined by the 19-year-old Ennis, who left his 69-year-old, hall-of-fame coach marveling at his calm.

“He dribbled it up, he had a purpose, he went up in the air and took a good shot and it went in,” Boeheim said. “He was poised to do it.”

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