Syracuse Breaks Streak of Second Half Slumps Against Pitt

Saturday, Feb 29, 2020 at 11:54 am by Sports Editor

By Sam Rothman

CitrusTV Men’s Basketball Reporter

You could say Syracuse’s offense in its 72-49 win over Pittsburgh was pretty good. But its defense, well, that was great. 

“It all started on defense,” said SU forward Elijah Hughes. “We really locked down on that end of the court.”

Hughes, the ACC’s leading scorer, finished with 25 points. Yet, he and the rest of the team were all complimentary of their aggressive effort on the back end, which started with Bourama Sidibe.

“Bourama was different inside,” said SU Head Coach Jim Boeheim. “That was really the difference in the defensive game. It was really his effort inside.”

The Mali native finished the night with 11 boards, five steals and four blocks.  

“He’s [Sidibe] got four blocks and five steals,” said Boeheim. “That’s 10 or 12 points. When he plays like that, we are obviously a much better team.”

But it just wasn’t Sidibe. Syracuse outrebounded Pitt 19-15 in the first half. The Orange forced 12 turnovers against the Panthers. All of that led to a 37-21 lead for the visitors heading into the locker room at half. 

However, despite that 16 point cushion, Boeheim made sure the score was the last thing on his team’s mind. 

“Coach said don’t look at the score,” said Sidibe. “Just keep playing.”

The Orange know better than anyone else that they couldn’t get too comfortable. Three times during this ACC stretch, SU has held a lead at half. Three times Syracuse watched as those leads quickly faded away to losses. 

“That kind of motivated everybody,” said Sidibe. “We didn’t want to lose any more games. We just wanted to keep fighting.”

Fight is exactly what SU did. Hughes scored seven of the first nine Orange points out of the locker room. Brycen Goodine was a spark off the bench, picking up five straight points in the second. Joe Girard hit back-to-back threes and the Orange had a dominating 57-32 lead just minutes into the final half. 

Just one month ago, Syracuse hosted Pittsburgh in the Dome. While the Orange also limited the Panthers to just 21 points in the first half of that one, the second halves were much different. In the Salt City, Pitt made it interesting with 40 points in the second frame. 

“It was a three-point game in Syracuse after we were up,” said Boeheim. “They dominated us in the second half. This was a really good effort.”

Tonight, the Orange proved they have learned their lesson. The Panthers went a measly 9-for-32 from the field in the final 20 minutes of action. 

“I think if our defense is really good, our offense is going to get going too,” said Quincy Guerrier. 

Well said, Quincy. That definitely seemed to be the case tonight. 

So, what does this solid win mean going forward with three ACC games left on the schedule?

Well, actually not too much.

Despite the victory, Syracuse has been eliminated from contention for the double-bye in the ACC Tournament since Virginia beat Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers join FSU, Louisville, and Duke in the top-four spots in the conference. 

However, the win did move SU into a tie with Notre Dame for fifth place in the ACC, for now. The No. 5 seed will meet the winner of the No. 12 and No. 13 first-round matchup. 

When it comes to the Big Dance, the bubble is all but popped for the Orange. However, a strong run in the ACC tournament could make the selection committee take another look. | @samrothman_