Pitt led Syracuse for the vast majority of the game Sunday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center, but couldn’t keep their lead and lost it late, 67-65, in the 15th annual Pink the Pete game.
The Panthers (11-13 overall, 2-11 ACC) held as high as an 11 point lead in the second quarter, held a nine point lead late in the third quarter and led the Orange (11-12 overall, 4-9 ACC) until the 1:36 mark in the fourth quarter, but made crucial mistakes down the stretch to lose their 22nd game in a row in the series. The last win for the Panthers against the Orange came in Jan. 2009.
“Obviously that one hurts,” Pitt head coach Lance White said after the game. “Just to have it in your hands and then let it slip away and don’t make enough plays in the fourth quarter to win it. I think that’s the story of our team most of the year. The lulls and then we can’t respond and bounce back from it. What it is I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on exactly what that is and you look at the stats and again so many good things. We killed them on the boards and had players make some good plays, but just can’t finish games and that’s on me. I got to figure out how to do that with this group and get them to perform at a higher level. Yeah that one hurts.”
Juniors, forward Amber Brown and center Rita Igbokwe, led the scoring early, scoring six points each to give Pitt a 12-9 lead at the first media timeout.
The Panthers finished the period on a 8-4 run to take a 20-13 lead, their largest lead at the end of the first quarter in ACC play this season. Sophomore guard Taisha Exanor provided five points off the bench and senior guard Jayla Everett made a 3-pointer for the Panthers.
Pitt continued to score effectively to start the second quarter, building a lead as big as 11 halfway through.
After shooting 4-for-23 from the field and 1-for-13 from 3-point range, Syracuse chose to take a different strategy to score on offense. They switched from shooting behind the arc and instead to drive to the paint and take closer, more high percentage shots.
The change worked for the Orange, as they made seven of their final nine shots, cutting the lead down to three, 34-31, at halftime.
The Panthers failed to improve upon their lead, going on scoring drought to end the quarter scoreless over the last 2:27.
Pitt opened up with some good scoring early in the third quarter, going on an 8-2 run to take a nine-point lead. Syracuse responded with a 7-3 run and cut the lead to five, 45-40, at the media timeout.
The Panthers kept their close lead throughout the period and finished with a 56-49 lead. Igbokwe led the Panthers with seven points on a perfect 3-for-3 shooting and a foul shot, with Everett right behind her with five points herself.
Syracuse took advantage of Pitt’s excessive fouling throughout the second half, getting to the foul line and converting 17 of their 20 foul shots, including a 10-for-10 free throw shooting in the fourth quarter.
This proved to be a big problem for the Panthers, who had trouble scoring against a sturdy Orange defense, even when the Orange themselves went long stretches without scoring from the field.
Graduate student forward Alaysia Styles and redshirt sophomore guard Teisha Hyman scored 16 of Syracuse’s 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead their team back in the game and eventually the victory. The duo finished with 52 of Syracuse’s 67 points in the game, Styles with 21 and Hyman with 31, a career-high in points for both players.
After tying the game at 63, the Orange took a two-point lead after Styles made two foul shots with 1:06 left.
The Panthers tied the game up at 65 as junior guard Dayshanette Harris drove to the bucket and laid off a pass for sophomore guard/forward Liatu King, who scored under the basket with 35 seconds remaining.
On the final play Hyman took control with Everett guarding her. Hyman took the ball down low with a pick-and-roll set on Everett, but Everett was able to battle through it and was able to contain Hyman. Hyman then moved to the center and hit the fadeaway mid-range jumper to give Syracuse a 67-65 lead with 9.4 seconds remaining.
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The final play saw Harris take the ball and give it to Brown, who was unable to get a good look and had to shoot a contested mid-range jumper, which hit off the backboard as the buzzer sounded.
Syracuse finished the game 25-for-28 from the free throw line, 89.3%, making up for their poor 2-20 shooting from 3-point range.
“I don’t think they’re doing anything, I think it’s us to ourselves basically,” Brown said on another close loss to Syracuse this season. “The team defense like coach White said. Just staying locked in for 40 minutes instead of 39 minutes. Just locking in and resetting faster on the lulls that coach is talking about.”
The game against Syracuse was the 15th annual Pink the Pete game, which is a game that raises awareness for breast cancer. The Panthers play in Pink uniforms to show their support for those fighting breast cancer and Brown talked about how important it is to her to play in this kind of game.
“I think it means a lot to the team,” Brown said. “A certain amount of players on our team have people that have dealt with breast cancer as well. Me personally, my aunt passed away from it and I have an aunt that’s battling it. The coaches have people that are good friends of theirs that have dealt with it. It just reminds us that it’s bigger than us. We’re playing it for somebody. Like coach told us before we even went out on the floor, ‘Today is not about us. It’s about all the people that came out to see us that are fighting something that’s bigger than what we are fighting. But what we do helps them, it gives them joy.’ So just playing for them.”
Pitt travels to Boston College on Tuesday, Feb. 13 in hopes of ending their four-game losing streak.