SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Jeff Capel’s Pitt Panthers have been dreaming of an orange Christmas.
On Tuesday night, the Panthers fought off a ferocious 20-point comeback from Syracuse, earning a stop on the last possession of the ballgame as former Pitt commit and Syracuse star freshman Judah Mintz missed a dramatic potential game-tying jumper.
The Panthers defense stepped up in the final moments, earning the team its second ACC win of the year and its eighth victory in its last nine games.
Pitt looked to its veterans for their leadership and outside shooting prowess from the very start in a loud environment, as Nelly Cummings hushed the crowd with four first-half threes, propelling the battle-ready Panthers to an eight-point lead at the break.
In the second half, Cummings added two more threes to finish with 22 points and sink the Orange. Wing-forward Blake Hinson led Pitt with his fourth double-double performance of the year, adding 25 points and 13 rebounds.
As big man John Hugley did not play and starting five-man Federiko Federiko spent extended time on the bench due to foul trouble, Hinson filled in defensively down low, attacking Syracuse’s bigs and using his physical frame to hold the lead for Pitt.
With just over five minutes to go, Federiko fouled out with seven points and five rebounds, leaving rookie Jorge Diaz-Graham and Hinson as the sole forwards in for the Panthers.
Diaz-Graham turned in a crucial performance for Pitt, hitting two big free throws late and grabbing an offensive rebound to add on to his six-point, three-rebound first-half showing.
The Panthers held off multiple Syracuse runs led by the two-time reigning ACC Rookie of the Week Mintz. After Mintz cut the Panther lead to seven with just over two minutes left on a mid-range jumper, the Orange came down the floor and earned a huge three-pointer from veteran Joe Girard to cut Pitt’s lead to four, its smallest of the half.
Pitt then held strong in the final moments, heading home with a 9-4 record.
Pitt stuck to its game plan from the very start, decimating the Orange’s infamous 2-3 zone with a three-point barrage led by Nelly Cummings’ four first-half three pointers. On the night, Pitt shot a strong 41% from three-point range, hitting 13 of its 32 attempts.
Pitt’s Jamarius Burton and Greg Elliott combined for 21 points, eight assists, and 12 rebounds in solid showings as well.
Pitt (9-4) now has ten days off until its next game on Dec. 30 at home against 8-4 North Carolina.