On Jan. 6, Pitt defeated Syracuse 63-60 after a miraculous 18-point comeback.
Ahead of Pitt’s second matchup against Syracuse in the 2020-21 season, here are five things to know about the two ACC teams coming into Saturday.
“ROADKILL” MENTALITY SPARKING COMEBACKS FOR PITT, CAN THEY DO IT AT HOME?
After leading the Panthers to large comeback victories against Northwestern and Syracuse, guard Xavier Johnson has been vocal about how the team never feels like it is out of a game, especially one on the road.
“The last two years we haven’t really won that many road games,” Johnson said. “This year, fully experienced, we kind of know what it takes now. I like to call it roadkill. You go on the road, you get a win, and it just kills the other team’s vibe.”
At Northwestern, Pitt trailed by as much as 14 points. The Panthers appeared lost offensively in the first half, scoring just 22 points on an abysmal 8-for-39 shooting. However, in the second half, the Panthers turned things around. To end the game, Pitt made six of its last eight field goals and went on a 6-0 run during the last 34 seconds of the game, coming out on top 71-70.
In its first matchup against Syracuse, Jeff Capel’s squad only scored 18 points in the first half to Syracuse’s 32. The Panthers trailed by as much as 18 and went into halftime looking miserable on the offensive end. However, they once again flipped a switch at the break, coming out in the second half and scoring 45 points on 46% shooting. After a late tip-in by Au’Diese Toney and a pair of free throws by Johnson, Pitt took home another win.
“I’m trying to figure out how we can not go down 18 again,” Capel said. “We had a good second half and a good rally, but we were getting our butts kicked. I’m trying to figure out how we can play a lot better, because we are going to have to play a lot better this time against them.”
One of the major reasons for these slow starts that Pitt has had in recent games has been Johnson getting into early foul trouble.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that in that first half against Syracuse he picked up two fouls and we had one assist and we had 18 points in the first half,” Capel added. “He plays the second half and I think we had 11 assists, or 12 assists, and we had 45 points. So when you don’t have your point guard out there that can make things difficult for you. Knock on wood, he’s played at a high level, so that’s certainly something that could help us, having him out there.”
SHUTTING DOWN QUINCY GUERRIER KEY TO PANTHERS SUCCESS
One of the keys to Pitt’s victory over the Orange back on Jan. 6 was the Panthers’ focus on shutting down forward Quincy Guerrier. Out of all eight players that saw the floor for the Orange, Guerrier logged the second-fewest minutes in that first matchup.
10-2 Orange run 🙌@quincyguerrier leading the way with 6 points.
21-18 Cuse | 7:57 1st pic.twitter.com/dAK9R4G0Pt
— Syracuse Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) January 10, 2021
The 6-foot-7 forward has been one of the most complete players on the Syracuse team this season, averaging 32.3 minutes, 16.4 points, and 9.5 rebounds per game. However, the Montreal native only finished with 17 minutes, three points, and five rebounds against Pitt.
“He’s been a good player,” Pitt forward Au’Diese Toney said on Guerrier ahead of Saturday’s game. “Always been a good player. He’s in attack mode now this year. He is looking more for him scoring the ball more. I see that. He’s making shots outside now. He’s shooting what, 50 or 40-something from three? Thats big, because I don’t think he even looked at scoring from the outside last year. That stood out the most for him this year. He’s always been a muster on the glass.”
Although he has been very consistent throughout his Syracuse career, foul trouble has been Guerrier’s achilles heel. In that game against Pitt, he racked up four fouls, causing him to sit on the bench for most of the game. In six of his last seven games, Guerrier has finished with at least four fouls. In his most recent game against North Carolina, Guerrier fouled out, posting five fouls along with 23 points and 11 rebounds in 37 minutes.
If Pitt wants to take down the Orange again, stopping Guerrier will certainly be near the top of its to-do list.
‘CUSE ON THE ROAD
Jim Boeheim’s squad has played three road games so far this season, losing at Rutgers and North Carolina and taking down Boston College. In those games, the Orange have scored an average of 81.66 points, a number helped in large part by their 101-point outburst in Chestnut Hill against the Eagles.
In all three of those games, there were no fans in attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions. When the two teams face off on Saturday afternoon, it will be much of the same, as Pitt is not allowing any fans into Petersen Events Center.
After they travel to Pittsburgh, the Orange will take trips to Virginia, Louisville, Duke, and Georgia Tech. Originally predicted to finish sixth in the ACC, ‘Cuse currently sits at 11th in the conference with a 2-1 record.
PITT COMING OFF LONG BREAK (AGAIN)
When Pitt took on Syracuse back on Jan. 6, it hadn’t played a game in 15 days due to postponements of scheduled games against Duke and Notre Dame. This time around, Pitt has not played in ten days, due to postponements of games against Georgia Tech and Florida State.
“It’s kind of complicated like you said because you never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, the next day or whatever,” Toney said. “It’s just the matter of fact that you always have to stay ready and be prepared for whatever happens. You got to just be prepared because, like Coach says, it’s a pandemic. A lot of things can happen. Weeks and days go by with teams testing positive and stuff like that so you’ve just got to be always ready for whatever happens.”
While an extended break may mean rust and slow starts in many cases, Toney and his teammates are viewing these ten days between matchups as an advantage when facing a team like the Orange.
“The last game, we didn’t expect to play them that early on during the season, like I said, because of the pandemic,” he said. “Now, we have more of a time frame on our hands, now we have more time to just study them more as well and get a feel for that zone more than we did at first.”
Syracuse has played two games since the two teams last met. The Orange defeated Georgetown at home and then traveled to North Carolina, falling 81-75 against the Tar Heels.
Saturday’s game will tip-off at noon and will be televised on AT&T Regional Sports Networks.
JOHN HUGLEY SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY, BIGS NEED TO STEP UP
Just one day before Pitt was set to take on Syracuse for the second time, it announced that freshman John Hugley had been suspended indefinitely after receiving felony counts of criminal conspiracy and receiving stolen property.
Hugley was the highest rated recruit in Pitt’s 2020 class, ranked as high as no. 80 in the nation according to Rivals. While not posting eye-popping numbers this season, he has appeared in seven games, including a start in the first game of the season. Through those seven games, he averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game.
Hugley did not play the last game for the Panthers against Syracuse due to COVID-19 protocols. While he was out, senior Terrell Brown took on a lot of responsibility inside and delivered his strongest performance of the year against the Orange, scoring eight points on 4-for-6 shooting. He is currently averaging eight minutes, 2.6 points, and 2.3 rebounds per game.
The other big man who will definitely see an increased role is Abdoul-Karim Coulibaly. The 6-foot-8 Coulibaly has started seven of eight games this season, averaging 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18.9 minutes per game. However, Coulibaly has struggled in the foul department, averaging 3.25 fouls per game and fouling out in games against Northwestern and Louisville. In the last game against Syracuse, Coulibaly played 22 minutes, scoring five points, grabbing three rebounds, and finishing with only one personal foul.
Along with Brown and Coulibaly is freshman center Max Amadasun, who is looking to earn some minutes while Hugley is out. Amadasun has only appeared in two games this season, both times in blowout wins against Northern Illinois and Gardner-Webb. While he may not be as polished or talented as Hugley, Amadasun does possess great size at 6-foot-10 and could prove to be a valuable option for Pitt in Hugley’s absence.
While Pitt will certainly miss Hugley’s presence inside, Syracuse will once again be without two big men in the contest against Pitt on Saturday. Centers Bourama Sidibe and Frank Anselem will both miss the game due to injury. While neither of the two played against Pitt in the first matchup, Syracuse did expect at least Bourama to be back by now.
“We thought Bourama would probably come back, but he’s not ready,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “His knee is bothering him. He’s still in pain. I don’t envision him back any time soon. His knee’s fine, but he’s got pain from arthritis or whatever and can’t play. Nothing he can do about it, nothing we can do about it. Frank (Anselem) is out. For health reasons, he’s being held out for another week or so probably. He’s not really ready anyway, but he’s a physical body. He’s missed so much time now it would be difficult for him to get back.”
Pitt will look to take advantage of these missing big men when they take on the Orange on Saturday at noon on AT&T’s Regional Sports Networks.