Men's basketball: Poor first-half shooting too much for Syracuse to overcome in loss to Pittsburgh

The Orange shot a dismal 28 percent in the first frame and couldn't pull through in a very physical contest.

With Syracuse trailing by one point with 40 seconds remaining, Michael Gbinije saw Rakeem Christmas coming to the top of the key to set a ball screen. 

He saw Christmas set his feet, or so he thought, and decided to drive through the lane for a potential game-tying shot. But before he could get there, he heard a whistle. 

Photo: Luke Rafferty
Syracuse Orange Coach Jim Boeheim reacts as Syracuse fights Pittsburgh for the ball during the first half of Saturday's game

Illegal screen on the big man. 

“You never want to be in those positions where a ref could interfere,” Gbinije said. “It’s definitely frustrating.” 

Pittsburgh’s James Robinson made two free throws on the ensuing possession to help derail a frantic SU comeback and ultimately hand the Orange a 65-61 defeat in front of 30,144 fans at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. The Panthers have now won six of the last eight matchups between the two schools inside the Loud House. 

Facing a six-point deficit at halftime, the Orange shot 58.3 percent from the floor in the second half to mount a rally, but the hot hand of Pittsburgh’s Chris Jones was too much to overcome. Jones drained five three-point attempts and tied his season-high with 19 points. 

“We just let him have those open shots in the first half, and that enabled them to get control of the game,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “It’s a mistake we can’t make defensively.” 

While Syracuse started the game by making only one of its first 13 shot attempts, Jones emerged with a lethal scoring touch. 

He made a trio of triples and added a layup for good measure in the final four minutes of the first half. Jamel Artis put the exclamation point on that spurt with a buzzer-beating three that gave Pittsburgh (18-10, 7-7 Atlantic Coast) its insurmountable halftime advantage. 

“I felt comfortable out here on this court,” Jones said. “My teammates kept finding me. They did a nice job penetrating the gaps. I just want to step in, be confident and knock them down.” 

Syracuse (17-10, 8-6 Atlantic Coast) was ice-cold during the half, missing all six of its three-point attempts. 

Trevor Cooney went scoreless for the first time this season, missing all four of his shots from beyond the arc. He has converted only 17.2 percent of his attempts from the floor over the past three games. 

Adding to Cooney’s woes was a stiff back that plagued him during the week and forced him into the locker room with about 15 minutes remaining in the second half. He returned, but was ineffective down the stretch. 

The redshirt-junior said the injury is bothering him, but not affecting his shot. 

“It hurts, yeah. It hurts,” Cooney said. “Just gotta keep playing and playing hard. Time will tell. It’s getting better. It loosened up a little bit today, but just gotta keep working on it.” 

Tyler Roberson also left the game after taking an elbow to the face on a rebound attempt in the first half. He needed five stitches to close a cut above his left eye, but returned and finished with nine points. 

The Orange still managed to claw back from a nine-point hole in the final 2:35 seconds of play with Christmas leading the charge. Although Pitt’s bigs repeatedly battered the senior in the paint, Christmas led all scorers with 20 points thanks to an array of hook shots and turnaround jumpers. 

B.J. Johnson scored 11 points off the bench, including a huge three-pointer with one minute remaining that set up the dramatic foul on Christmas. Nearly every fan in the Dome erupted in unison as Christmas held out his arms in disbelief. 

Boeheim gave the officials an earful, visibly yelling “That’s bulls***!” among other obscenities. He refused to comment about the play following the game. 

“We’re not allowed to talk about that,” he said with noticeable sarcasm. 

Although the final result stung, Gbinije said SU doesn’t have any time to dwell on it. Notre Dame awaits the team on Tuesday in South Bend. 

“What’s done is done,” Gbinije said. “That’s the honest truth. We have practice first. We’ll just take it one step at a time.”

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