Fourth-ranked Pittsburgh jumps out early, outlasts No. 3 Syracuse

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon almost couldn't believe it as the Panthers built their lead -- 5-0, 11-0, 13-0 and finally to 19-0. The larger the lead got, the more he fretted.

This wasn't Illinois-Chicago or North Florida, teams that Pitt wiped out by big margins in November. This was No. 3 Syracuse in mid-January, and he knew it couldn't last. And it didn't.

Pittsburgh (No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) lost its huge early lead, then came back behind Nasir Robinson's 21 points to hand the Orange their first loss Monday night, winning 74-66 in a game of remarkable runs.

"It was a strange game," Dixon said

While the start was remarkable, the finish wasn't -- Pitt's eighth victory in nine games against Syracuse, which played without leading scorer Kris Joseph after he received a concussion Saturday against Cincinnati.

Brad Wanamaker added 15 points to help the Panthers (18-1) improve to 6-0 in the Big East for the first time and halt a long Syracuse winning streak for the second successive season.

The Orange (18-1, 5-1) couldn't match the 1999-2000 team's school record by winning their first 19 games. Syracuse won its first 13 last season, only to lose to Pitt 82-72 at the Carrier Dome.

C.J. Fair had 16 points and nine rebounds while Scoop Jardine added 12 points for Syracuse, which answered Pitt's big start with a 17-0 run that helped tie the score at 41 with 13:46 remaining. But Pitt scored nine of the next 12 points as Wanamaker hit a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws.

"We got off to a horrible start and Pitt got off to a great start," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We had a long way to come from back from the beginning. ... That's as good a Pitt team as I've seen. That's probably the best team we've played."

Syracuse appeared to have a chance to make a final push after Dixon drew a rare technical foul and Dion Waiters made the two free throws, cutting it to 57-53. But Pitt scored the next eight points, and Syracuse never got closer than five points after that.

"It's the first time I've played in a game like that," Wanamaker said. "They made their run, but we stuck with it the whole game."

Brandon Triche had 11 points and Rick Jackson added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Orange.

Pitt is 9-0 in the Petersen Events Center against Top 5 clubs, including a 78-63 victory over then-No. 4 Connecticut on Dec. 27.

Pittsburgh's 19-0 run lasted nearly eight minutes, beginning with Robinson's nine consecutive points to start the game -- he came in averaging 7.5 -- and ending with Wanamaker's dunk.

"We practiced all week with me attacking the middle of their [2-3] zone and then passing to Brad or Ashton [Gibbs]," Robinson said. "Getting inside opens up a lot against that zone."

The deficit was Syracuse's largest since it trailed Oklahoma by 27 in an NCAA tournament game two seasons ago.

"If you're going to get behind by 19, it's better to do it early," said Boeheim, whose team rallied from 18 down to beat DePaul last season.

Syracuse missed its first 10 shots and nearly half of them weren't close. But as inexplicable as the 19 consecutive points were, so was Syracuse answering with a 17-0 run -- a burst in which the Orange held the Panthers scoreless for 6 minutes, 35 seconds.

"We were missing easy shots," Jardine said. "They were making them, and the crowd really got into it. ... But we learned a lot from this loss. We learned we can play from behind. And it [the early deficit] wasn't because of our offense, but our defense. They weren't making 3s, they were getting layups."

Fair scored three times during a surge that quickly quieted what had become a raucous Petersen Events Center, with the 1,500 students jumping up and down in their courtside seats so furiously that the grandstands shook.

Those two runs were followed by, of course, an 8-0 Pitt run followed by a 7-0 Syracuse run. The surges came with such regularity that one team answered the other's basket only once until Gilbert Brown hit a 3-pointer for Pitt with 5:35 remaining in the half, during a stretch in which Syracuse outscored Pitt 24-7.

By halftime, the score was about where it was predicted to be -- Pitt 31-27 -- even with all the runs. Pitt wound up shooting 48.2 percent (27 of 56) to Syracuse's 39.1 percent (25 of 64) and led 44-30 in rebounding, with Gary McGhee getting 13 rebounds.

Among those in the arena record crowd of 12,925 were a half-dozen Steelers players, including linebackers James Farrior and LaMarr Woodley, and former Heisman Trophy runner-up Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals wide receiver and former Pitt star.