Monday Morning Lookback: Syracuse

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For the first time in history the Pitt basketball team came out in their all black uniforms Saturday against the Syracuse Orangeman. In what was marketed as a blackout for the fans The Panthers could have easily been dressed for their own NCAA Tournament funeral but instead pulled off a 83-77 win to keep their  postseason dreams alive. The 12,508 fans at the Peterson Events Center,  all dressed in black, saw the Panthers offense lead the team to a big win. The win was the third in a row for Pitt with two of the wins coming against former Big East foes Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Panthers will be looking for another win Wednesday against former Big East foe Louisville.

The first half of the game saw Syracuse take an early 13-5 lead and and then they seemed to spend the rest of the half hold off Pitt runs and answering the Panthers shot for shot. Pitt was able to cut the lead to just two at the half 40-38. Panther guard Cameron Wright rolled an ankle early in the game and was only able to play 4 minutes for the game. Jamie Dixon’s bench responded by outscoring Syracuse’s bench 33-3. Beaver Falls, Pa native Sheldon Jeter came of the pine to score a career high 18 points including 15 in the second half. He was sensational down the stretch and showed a glimpse of the talent he has. Chris Jones chipped in 15 off the bench on 6-9 shooting and 3 big three pointers.

Pitt took its first lead at 51-50 on a free throw by Sheldon Jeter, which lead to a typical Pitt-Syracuse finish that always seems to come down to the last minute of play. There were nine lead changes and eight ties, almost all of them coming in the last 16 minutes. A free throw by Rakeem Christmas tied the game at 73 with 2:42 to play, but the Panthers ended things with a 10-4 run. Jamel Artis led the run with a lay-up and Jeter followed with a 15-footer. Two free throws by Christmas made it a two-point game before Artis buried a 3 from the top of the key in what was the biggest shot of his career. Pitt held on as Jeter had a big put back to extend the Panthers lead to 5.

The Panthers were once again lead by star Jamel Artis. Artis scored 20 points 10 rebounds 5 assist and 3 steals. I can’t recall a player that has had such a big turnaround during the season. After struggling early this year, Artis has been sensational in his last 7 games. Michael Young had another double-double with 13 points and 11 boards. James Robinson added 13 points and had three big 3 pointers for Pitt. Josh Newkirk struggled shooting 1-7 but did add 5 assists.

Let’s give Jamie Dixon some credit here. He has changed the makeup of this team on the fly. The offense has picked up over the past few games. This has become necessary as the Panthers defense just is not as good as past teams. Dixon has adjusted, playing more zone and pressing after makes at time. Jamie seemed to really enjoy himself on Saturday feeding of the energy of an incredible crowd at the Pete. The Panther have a tough three game stretch against Louisville, North Carolina, and Virginia. These games will go along way toward defining the Panthers season. Win or lose this team has taken some big strides and players have stepped up along the way. And yes in case you forgot Jamie Dixon can still coach basketball.

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