Syracuse had a lot to lose on Monday, but it refused to.
The 71-63 win over Pittsburgh, who had defeated SU five straight times in the Carrier Dome, is the team’s 20th of the year – in a row. The start is the best in school history and it moved coach Jim Boeheim into a tie with Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp for fourth all-time in Division I basketball wins.
But to him, it was just another win.
“No signifigance,” Boeheim replied when asked what the best-start record means to him. “None whatsoever.”
The long-time SU coach didn’t have much else to say when asked about the individual accomplishment, either.
“The only thing I care about is this year,” Boeheim said. “Everything else is something (you think about) when you get real old.
“Like about next year, I’ll think about it.”
Boeheim was instead happy to get a win over the same team that accounted to the Orange’s first loss in each of the last two seasons.
“Pittsburgh is a good team, I don’t care what their record is,” he said. “They’re going to win a lot of games in this league this year.”
But the Panthers could not even sniff the lead in this one.
Pittsburgh turned the ball over early and often, and Syracuse continued to make its opponents pay by turning the blunders into easy offense.
The first four buckets were all the result of turnovers, as Kris Joseph found the cup on two slashes and Fab Melo scored the next four for SU on a pair of dunks thanks to lobs from Scoop Jardine – who buried a three on the next possession. Brandon Triche lobbed to Joseph on the next trip down, capping a 13-0 run by the Orange to begin the game.
“Every time I look at him, he knows he can give me the pass,” Melo said of the constant lobs he was able to finish on the night. “And every opportunity he gets – he passes the ball.”
The early explosion was halted by Lamar Patterson, who hit a mid-range jumper to silence the very loud Carrier Dome crowd momentarily.
Though it didn’t seem likely, the Panthers went on a run of their own – this one fueled by outside shooting. Ashton Gibbs hit a pair of jumpers during the 9-2 spurt – which swung the momentum to the visitor’s side.
The Big East rivals traded baskets over the next four minutes, until Syracuse went to the press. It created three straight turnovers and the Orange stretched the lead back out to 26-17 just before the five-minute mark.
”We were playing great defense,” Joseph said of the first-half surge. “It turned into offense for us – fastbreak points and transition baskets…
“That’s the type of team we are.”
Syracuse continued pressuring the Panthers, and it continued to work. After settling in the half-court offense, Jardine found Melo for another alley-oop with 2 ½ minutes to play in the half to stretch the lead to 33-21. Pitt would keep it close the rest of the half thanks to a dominating effort on the boards.
After the break, the game was similar to Saturday’s for the Orange – as Jardine went to work on the offensive end. He paced the offense on the way to extending the lead to 14 points on two occasions. The senior scored seven of the team’s first 11 points in the half.
“I think I played well tonight,” said Jardine, who finished with 12 points and 10 assists. “But I think I been here all season for my teammates.”
The Panthers answered with a 15-4 run to cut the lead down to four points with 8:34 left in the game. Talib Zanna had six points in the stretch, including scoring on some easy ones in the paint.
But the chances of the upset would soon be thwarted.
Joseph hit a three-pointer on the next possession to get the crowd back in the game, and he stole the ball on the defensive end. Dion Waiters ripped a shot from long range two possessions later to get the lead back to 10 with seven minutes remaining.
“I feel like when I get the ball, nobody can stay in front of me,” said Waiters, who led the team with 16 points in yet another solid performance during his break-out season. “It’s always going to be like that…
“Hard work pays off.”
Pittsburgh would not get much closer the rest of the way, thanks to long possessions for Syracuse. The Panthers also got into some foul trouble down the stretch, and the Orange was able to make free throws and keep the momentum at a near stand-still in the final minutes on the way to history.
“We haven’t even peaked yet,” Triche said of the undefeated Orange.
Next up for Syracuse is a road test at Notre Dame on Saturday before another Big East game at Cincinnati a week from tonight.