SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Cross No. 5 Syracuse off the list of unbeatens.
Ashton Gibbs scored 24 points and Jermaine Dixon added 21 to lead Pittsburgh to an 82-72 victory Saturday over the Orange. The loss was Syracuse’s fourth straight at home to the Panthers (12-2, 2-0 Big East) and dropped the number of major unbeaten teams to four.
Syracuse (13-1, 1-1) sailed through the nonconference portion of its schedule, easily, beating North Carolina and California at Madison Square Garden and Florida in Tampa.
The Orange survived their Big East opener at Seton Hall on Tuesday, but that seven-point win was the closest of the season for a team that had become accustomed to winning games by more than 24 points.
It signaled the start of the bruising part of the schedule and the Panthers thrive in that atmosphere.
“We’re a team that’s gotten much better defensively. That’s our calling card,” said Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who moved past Bob Timmons into second place in career wins at Pitt with 175. “They’re as good as anybody in the country. Maybe we just caught them on the right day.”
The Panthers are the Big East’s top defensive team at 55.9 points per game despite a revamped roster with only one returning starter. They held the league’s top-scoring team 15 points below its average. Meanwhile, Pitt’s highest point total was 74 coming into the game.
“I think the game was decided with just the physical play,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We didn’t get to loose balls. Pittsburgh is just a tremendous defensive team and we weren’t physical when we needed to be.”
Syracuse shot 42.4 percent from the field on 28 of 66 shooting and was 1 of 13 on 3-pointers. The Orange, who came into the game hitting 54.7 percent from the field, had only 12 assists—nearly 10 below their season average, while Pittsburgh had 19 assists on 23 baskets.
Syracuse got into foul trouble in the second half as the Panthers repeatedly crashed the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense. And Pitt capitalized, converting 24 of 32 free throws in the period.
“This is the first time that a team really came at us,” said Wes Johnson, who led Syracuse with 19 points. “We knew they were going to be physical. We just have to keep our composure. We just have to play through it. We didn’t do a good job of that today.”
The Orange’s loss left just four unbeaten teams in the Top 25. No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Kentucky all won later Saturday, while No. 4 Purdue beat formerly unbeaten West Virginia on Friday.
Syracuse was called for 19 personal fouls in the final 20 minutes, with Johnson getting his fourth foul 7:53 remaining. Then 13 seconds later, Rick Jackson got his fourth, taking some of the spunk from two key players.
“In the Big East, you can’t let the refs decide the game,” said center Arinze Onuaku, who had nine points and only three rebounds before fouling out with 2:50 left. “They just beat us to loose balls and long rebounds. That changed the game.”
Pittsburgh erased a three-point halftime deficit with a 16-4 run to start the second half. While the Orange missed three straight shots and committed three fouls, Brad Wanamaker scored six points and Jermaine Dixon hit a pair of 3s, the second giving the Panthers a 43-34 lead with 15:23 left.
“We did a good job of sharing the ball and finding open teammates in the right spots,” said Gibbs, who tied a career high with six 3s. “I was just taking what they gave me.”
Syracuse used a press to get back into it. Johnson converted two misses by Scoop Jardine to key an 8-1 surge that moved the Orange back within 46-44 at 11:18.
The Panthers used the long-range accuracy of Gibbs to stay close in the first half. Gibbs hit three 3-pointers in a span of just over 4 minutes to help lead Pitt back from a 20-10 deficit.
Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon combined for 23 points in the opening half as Pitt left the floor at the break trailing 30-27.
“We played as a team,” Gibbs said. “We played tough defense and we rebounded the ball towards the end of the game. That’s what we needed. Coaches stressed that in pregame.”