Thursday, February 13, 2014

24-0, 24 hours later

As the Orange faithful and most NCAA basketball fans are aware, the Orange are now 24-0 after beating Pitt 58-56 on Tyler Ennis' 35 foot buzzer beater last night.  Simply amazing... but as this season has gone, we cannot say it is unexpected.  We have seen the Orange comeback and pull out victory after victory in close games this year.

I had circled the Pitt game on the calendar as where I thought our winning streak would end.  Pitt is incredibly tough to play at home, even if they had struggled recently.  Pitt has been extremely tough against the Orange under Jamie Dixon, with the Orange only 5-10 against him going into last night.  The odds makers had #1 Syracuse, at 23-0, as the slight underdog to #25 ranked Pitt.  That says a lot about how tough it is to win at Pitt.

But once again, the Orange played shutdown defense during the crunch time, and they made all the baskets they needed to make.  Tyler Ennis is superman down the stretch, something I discussed in detail a couple of weeks ago.  He just ramped up his game a few more notches to show us he could do a little bit more.  Now Ennis has joined the club of players like Jimmy Lee, Gerry McNamara, John Wallace, and Pearl Washington, with a buzzer beating shot.

Ennis made this 35 footer to win the game. He of course added 2 made free throws in the previous possession to tie the game up, before Pitt once again took the lead.  Ennis' stature in close games is becoming mythical, as the ESPN graphic from below shows.
Ennis has one blemish during these minutes of play, a simple missed field. Overall he is 8 of 9 from the floor, including one three point basket (from 35 feet nevertheless!), and 14 of 14 from the free throw line. He is flawless as the floor general with six assists and no turnovers.

It was not all Ennis last night.  Syracuse was down by 6 points with less than two minutes to play in the game.  C.J. Fair made a clutch three point shot to make it a three point game, and a short time later may a two point shot to bring the game within one.  The last play of the game was actually designed to go to Fair. Pitt had defensively prepared for that, and so the second choice was Ennis, and he came through.

I have seen my fair share of memorable Syracuse games over the years and several fantastic finishes. I have no idea where to rank this one, but it will remain in that discussion for one of the best.  If you put it into context, extending the unblemished season to 24-0, and extending the school record for consecutive wins, and doing it on a hostile court, that makes it quite impressive.  Some of the other memorable finishes include Big East tournament and NCAA tournament games, and some are games I attended in  person, so I may not place this game ahead of those.  But it was a wonderful night.

Jim Boeheim and Syracuse have now beaten Pitt three straight times, and four of the past five meetings.  You have got to wonder when the Syracuse/Pitt game might kick itself up a notch and become a real rivalry. I know many Syracuse fans, myself included, do not quite get that same vibe with Pitt as we do with UConn or Georgetown, or with Villanova or St. John's.  I think part of that is that Syracuse and Pitt only met 5 times in the Big East tournament in 33 years of Big East Conference play.  

But consider that Syracuse and Pitt have now met 104 times, the fourth most games in a Syracuse basketball rivalry.  Geographically, Pitt and Boston College are the closest physical opponents in ACC play.  The games are almost always meaningful; they were the two winningest programs in the Big East the past 10 years.  Pitt has played 8 games at the Dome in front of 30,000+ fans; only Georgetown has done it more.

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