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
Panthers (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today; No. 20 AP) to a 76-69 victory over fourth-ranked Syracuse on Saturday
Pittsburgh, rallying much as it did the previous Saturday in
beating then-No. 16 Connecticut 76-66, took command by holding
Syracuse scoreless for 6½ 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 14½ minutes, had 18 points and nine
rebounds for Pitt (14-3, 4-2). The Panthers outrebounded Syracuse
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.