Pundits all over the nation were wondering, could this be the year? Can Syracuse join the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers as the only undefeated team in NCAA Division I history? The stars have been aligned for the Orange all year. The Orange blew out their only top-10 opponent to date, the Villanova Wildcats, back in December, and they have won six of their conference games by double digits in a top-heavy ACC.
Pitt was looking to avenge a five-point loss to the Orange back in January and the Zoo was rocking at tipoff. Consider those stars still aligned.
Despite trailing for the last 34 minutes of the game, freshman sensation Tyler Ennis took over in the last 15 seconds and willed the Orange to an improbable victory with two free throws and a last-second running 3-pointer to steal a victory from Pitt, 58-56. Teams of destiny must have clutch moments and clutch players. Ennis’s cool demeanor under pressure let the Orange and the rest of the country know that he is the man for that job.
In one-possession games in the final five minutes of the second half, Ennis is 8-for-9 from the field and a perfect 14-for-14 from the charity stripe for the season. In that span, he also has six assists and zero turnovers. Basically, if Syracuse is within striking distance with the game on the line, the ball should be in Ennis’s more than capable hands.
The three-headed offensive attack of C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney and Ennis kept Syracuse close, despite losing the rebounding battle (35-24) and only scoring three-second chance points. The Orange had just one offensive rebound; however, the raucous Pitt crowd could only watch as the Orange chiseled away at the lead in the final three minutes, setting up Ennis and his season-defining moment.
If the Orange are to join the 1976 Hoosiers in their lonely fraternity, they must find ways to win as they did on Wednesday night. With upcoming matchups against the Duke Blue Devils and the Virginia Cavaliers, Jim Boeheim and company cannot afford to lose the inside battle as they did against Pitt. Then again, with Ennis, anything is possible.
Brad Stephens is an SEC Football writer for RantSports.com. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @bradstephens320.