Pitt downs ‘Cuse behind the “blackout”
By: Ryan Bertonaschi
Four minutes into Saturday afternoon’s contest at the Petersen Events Center, Pitt’s senior leader, Cameron Wright, hobbled off the floor and exited the game for the remainder of the day after twisting his left ankle. His replacement, sophomore Sheldon Jeter, consequently ran the length of the sideline, removed his all-black warm-up and checked in.
Jeter would provide the Pitt Panthers (16-8, 5-5 ACC) with the jolt of offense they needed to secure a win against the Syracuse Orange (15-8, 6-4 ACC) in a seesaw battle before some 12,508 fans decked out in black, many of whom partook in Pitt’s first-ever organized “blackout” game. After the bout, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon voluntarily called the crowd, “As good as we’ve ever had.”
The Panthers were down by as many as 10 points in the first half at the hands of Syracuse forward Michael Gbinije and its menacing center Rakeem Christmas, who scored 10 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 23 points, and the Orange held Pitt’s Jamel Artis to just six first-half points.
But Pitt guard Chris Jones hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions five minutes into the second half, and the Panthers tied the contest.
“Even though they only made seven threes,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. “That’s pretty good for them, and they made some key ones. Jones’ were particularly big. We had a 6-point lead and he hit two to bring it back to even.”
Pitt snagged its first lead of the game two minutes later when Jeter made the second of two free throws, giving Pitt a 51-50 lead.
There would be seven ties and eight more lead changes in the remainder of the game. In the end, the Panthers made more shots down the stretch and reeled in more offensive rebounds. Pitt shot 48 percent from the floor and collected 16 offensive rebounds, opposed to Syracuse’s 50 percent and 12 offensive rebounds. The Panthers also scored 21 second chance points and got 33 points from their bench, while Syracuse’s starters scored 73 of its 77 points.
Pitt, in its all-black uniforms, took its second lead of the game on a 15-foot jumper by Jamel Artis with 8:52 to play. Christmas was called for a moving screen on the ensuing possession, and the Panthers made the Orange pay for their center’s mistake. Michael Young caught a pass in the low post and banked home a reverse lay-up, also drawing a foul on the play, and Pitt’s fans exploded from their seats.
With two minutes to play, the Panthers displayed vintage Pitt ball movement, which led to a left-handed lay-in by Artis. Young swatted Christmas’ shot attempt on the next possession, and Jeter hit a wide-open jumper to put the Panthers up 80-75, a lead they would not render for the rest of the afternoon.
“I thought the difference in the game was Jeter coming off the bench for them,” Boeheim said. “Our offense was not the problem. We couldn’t stop them when we needed to, and I think Jeter was a big part of it.”
Dixon said in his postgame remarks that, earlier in the week, he caught Sheldon Jeter putting in after-hours work at the Petersen Events Center. According to Dixon, Jeter was working on his shot alone after a team film session. Dixon later texted Jeter, saying, “I know how bad you want it. I know how hard you’re working. It’s going to come.”
It came for Jeter. He was one of five Panthers who scored in double figures.
For Pitt’s sixth straight game, Artis was the Panthers’ leading scorer. He registered 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jeter scored a season-high 18 points, and Jones chipped in with 15. Young and Robinson followed with 13, and Young had 11 rebounds.
“It’s as good as we’ve attacked their [2-3] zone, and it’s a good thing going forward as we get ready for Louisville.”
Pitt travels to the KFC Yum Center, the home of the Cardinals, for an 8 p.m. tipoff Wednesday.