PITTSBURGH (AP)—Syracuse couldn’t have asked for a better start as it tried to become the first visiting team to win in successive seasons in Pitt’s new arena. The Orange’s biggest mistake was letting the game get away long before the finish.
Carl Krauser and Chevon Troutman led Pittsburgh’s second consecutive comeback from a 17-point deficit against a ranked opponent, withstanding long scoreless stretches to drive the No. 20 Panthers to a 76-69 victory over fourth-ranked Syracuse on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh, rallying much as it did the previous Saturday in beating then-No. 16 Connecticut 76-66, took command by holding Syracuse scoreless for 6 1/2 minutes during a 13-0 run midway through the second half.
The Orange (20-2, 7-1 Big East) opened a 22-5 lead by holding Pitt to two field goals in the first 10 minutes. Syracuse ended Pitt’s 40-game home winning streak last season by becoming the first visiting team to win in the Petersen Events Center, which opened for the 2002-03 season.
“It didn’t feel like we were down 17,” Pitt’s Levon Kendall said. “We made a lot of mental mistakes that gave them open shots, and we knew that if we played as well as we could, it wouldn’t be a problem coming back. It wasn’t anything to get worried about.”
Apparently not. Krauser scored his 19 points in the second half after not scoring for nearly 23 minutes and Troutman, held scoreless for the first 14 1/2 minutes, had 18 points and nine rebounds for Pitt (14-3, 4-2). The Panthers outrebounded Syracuse 39-28.
Keith Benjamin, a seldom-used freshman guard who had scored only two points in Pitt’s previous 13 games, keyed the comeback by coming off the bench for 10 points—as many as he had all season.
“It’s been a long wait to go out there and show what I could do,” said Benjamin, who was slowed earlier by a foot injury. “Coach (Jamie Dixon) gave me an opportunity and I wanted to bring some energy to the team.”
Gerry McNamara scored 26 points and Hakim Warrick had 25, but no other Syracuse player scored more than four as the Orange’s 13-game winning streak ended. McNamara went 14 minutes without a basket during the second half before hitting three late 3-pointers.
“We can’t win with only two guys scoring—we need better balance,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “People are going to do what they can to take Gerry and Hakim away, and we need our other guys in those situations. Two guys are not going to win a game in this league.”
Boeheim felt the game swung when the Panthers went into a 2-3 zone in the second half—Syracuse’s preferred defense—but the Orange still couldn’t get open shots.
“We actually wanted them to play the zone, but they made shots and we couldn’t,” Boeheim said. “Our failure to attack the zone was our biggest shortcoming.”
Pitt was 13-of-26 in the second half to Syracuse’s 10-of-28.
McNamara was in double figures with 10 points before Pitt made its second field goal of the game, but Benjamin came off the bench to hit two quick baskets and start the Panthers on a 22-9 run that cut Syracuse’s lead to 31-27.
Pitt tied it for the first time at 38 on Krauser’s second 3-pointer in two possessions before Syracuse answered with a quick 6-0 run for a 44-38 lead. But Benjamin’s 3-pointer and two free throws and Aaron Gray’s tap-in started the 13-0 run that put Pitt up 51-44. At that point, Pitt had outscored Syracuse 46-22 since trailing by 17.
Dixon went to Benjamin mostly out of desperation after freshman guard Ronald Ramon quickly drew three fouls and starting guard Antonio Graves had trouble getting open shots. Graves failed to score in nine minutes.
“We had a lot of sophomores and freshmen out there and guys who hadn’t played a lot, but they played like they had been there in those situations,” Dixon said.
The Panthers had lost three of five, including successive home games to Bucknell and Georgetown, before beating UConn and Syracuse. The turnaround began when Krauser began cutting down on his turnovers and quit forcing shots.
“In the first half I was looking for my teammates and letting the game come to me,” Krauser said. “In the second half, I felt a sense of urgency to get things going.”
The Orange, the highest-ranked opponent to play at the Petersen Center, were playing their first ranked opponent since losing to then-No. 5 Oklahoma State 74-60 on Dec. 7.
Pitt is 9-43 overall against top 5 teams but has won its last three at home.