Pittsburgh Panthers Finally Pick Up Signature Victory With Win Over Syracuse

By Michael Roberts
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Panthers finally picked up their first signature victory of the season by handing the Syracuse Orange their second straight loss.

The Panthers used a full team effort to defeat the Big East’s top team 65-55 on their home court. Pittsburgh’s conference record now improves to 6-4 while the Orange fall to 6-2.

After multiple close games where the Panthers nearly knocked off top five teams previously but ultimately came up short, Pittsburgh finally improved their tournament resume.

The two team’s battle hard in their final meeting before moving to the ACC next year, but the Panthers bench ended up being the difference in the end. Pittsburgh had ten difference scorers while Syracuse had only five as the Panthers bench outscored the Orange’s bench 31-3.

Tray Woodall was the only Panther to finish in double-figures with 13 points and he didn’t reach double-digits until the final 30 seconds of the game. Woodall also managed to record five rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Talib Zanna entered the contest as Pittsburgh’s leading scorer but only managed to finish with four points against Syracuse. The 6-foot-9 junior made up for his lack of scoring with a monstrous game on the boards delivering a season high 12 rebounds.

If somebody said Zanna only scored four points and Pittsburgh had only one scorer in double-figures after the game, those who didn’t know the outcome would most likely think the Orange ran away with a road victory. It clearly wasn’t the case as the Panthers made sure to flex their depth for those still considering Pittsburgh a bubble team come mid-March.

Although the Panthers have been inconsistent in conference action, the ability to roll out ten players with complete confidence in every one of them is a dangerous threat. If the Panthers can finish Big East action strong they’ll no doubt find themselves in the NCAA Tournament. Once they do, opponents will want to avoid the deep Pittsburgh roster given the marathon known as March Madness.

Having to play the most competitive games with only one days rest will be a benefit for the Panthers. Team’s dependent on their starters to carry them through the tournament will struggle against Pittsburgh’s in-your-face defense. Given all the options coach Jamie Dixon has to throw on the court, his team’s defense will never get tired and eventually wear down the opponent’s top scorers. For all the Panthers’ struggles on offense, their defense will more than make up for it on any potential tournament run.

With the victory over Syracuse, Pittsburgh proved future opponents will want to avoid them once the calendar slips to March.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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