SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Pitt traveled to Syracuse on Wednesday afternoon on short notice, as the game had just been arranged about 72 hours before tip and Pitt getting in just two practice sessions’ worth of preparation.
They traveled shorthanded, with star wing Justin Champagnie out with a knee injury and three regulars and assistant coach Jason Capel in COVID-19 protocols.
In the first two and a half minutes of the game, they spotted the Orange 11 points.
That might not seem like a winning recipe, but that’s exactly what happened, as the Panthers stormed back from a huge deficit in the second half to upset the Orange, 63-60.
With the Panthers trailing late, Au’Diese Toney put-back an Ithiel Horton miss to give the Panthers their first lead of the game with eight seconds to play.
Xavier Johnson then intercepted the Syracuse in-bounds pass and made to free three throws, setting up a last-second, half-court heave from Orange guard Alan Griffin that was off the mark.
Johnson was a huge driver of Pitt’s comeback. After recovering from the initial 11-0 onslaught, Pitt fell into an even bigger hole and trailed by as many as 18 in the first half when point guard Johnson earned two quick fouls and a seat on the bench.
The Panthers trailed by 14 at the half and the junior combo of Johnson and Toney, Pitt’s leading scorers, combined for just two points in the opening 20 minutes. They came alive in the second half, as Johnson and Toney both finished with 12.
Shooting guard Ithiel Horton provided crucial scoring touch from long range over the Syracuse zone. He led the Panthers with 14 points and was 4 of 11 from 3-point range.
Toney’s game-winer being a put-back was apropos, as the Panthers dominated the offensive glass, getting 20 offensive rebounds and turning them into 21 second-chance points.
With the win, Pitt improved to 6-2 on the season and 2-1 in ACC play. The Panthers are scheduled to host Florida State at 2 p.m. on Saturday.