NEW YORK -- If there was one piece of good news Thursday after Pitt was eliminated from its final Big East tournament it was this: the Atlantic Coast Conference does not have a double-bye format for its postseason tournament.
When the Big East began awarding double byes in 2009, the conference believed it was rewarding teams for a strong regular season, but Pitt has had nothing but bad experiences with the format.
In its final Big East tournament appearance, Pitt allowed a season-high 12 3-pointers, including six from James Southerland, and fell to Syracuse, 62-59, in a quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden.
Southerland, a 6-foot-9 forward, was 6 for 6 from 3-point range and scored 20 points to lead Syracuse (25-8) to the semifinals where the Orange will meet Georgetown at 7 p.m. today.
Pitt (24-8) won one Big East tournament game in its final five years in the league. The Panthers never won a game when it had the double bye.
They were the No. 1 seed in the tournament in 2011 and were upset by No. 9 seed Connecticut. In 2009 and 2010, the Panthers were the No. 2 seed and fell to No. 7 seeds West Virginia and Notre Dame.
"We were prepared to come into this tournament and win, but I guess now we have to focus on the NCAA tournament," senior guard Tray Woodall said.
The Panthers will return to the NCAA tournament for the 11th time in the past 12 years after missing last season, but Thursday they were left to ponder another early exit from the Big East.
Syracuse shot 47 percent (22 for 47) from the field and 63 percent (12 for 19) from 3-point range. Southerland made five of Syracuse's eight first-half 3-pointers, and the Orange jumped to a 40-27 halftime lead.
Southerland, who did not play because of an eligibility issue when Pitt beat Syracuse Feb. 2 at Pitt, has made 12 of 15 attempts from 3-point range in the first two games of the tournament. He was 6 for 9 from behind the arc in a second-round victory against Seton Hall Wednesday.
Woodall said coach Jamie Dixon and his staff warned the team of Southerland's 3-point shooting prowess, but the players failed in executing the game plan.
"We had to do a better job of crowding him and not allowing him to get off his shots," Woodall said. "We have scouting reports. Our coaches do a great job of going out and scouting. Dixon is one of those guys who is more prepared than any coach in the country, in my opinion. They laid out the platform for us, and we failed to execute it. We let Southerland get off."
Woodall said there was no excuse for allowing Southerland to get so many quality shots in the first half. At first, small forwards Lamar Patterson and Durand Johnson attempted to guard him. Dixon then had smaller and quicker guards chasing him around. Nothing seemed to work.
"We saw the game [Wednesday] night," he said. "We all know he can shoot. He's 6-9 and has a high release. He hit some tough ones. Once you let a guy get going ... he was just unconscious."
Southerland was 1 for 3 from the field and only scored three points after halftime. Pitt climbed back into the game with tougher defense and more physical play, but it was too little too late.
The Panthers outrebounded Syracuse, 26-10, after halftime, and Woodall made some big plays to lead a late charge. The 13-point halftime deficit dwindled to one with 30 seconds remaining, and Pitt had a chance to tie the score with Talib Zanna at the free-throw line.
But Zanna, a 69 percent free-throw shooter who made 18 of his previous 26 attempts from the line, missed.
Michael Carter-Williams rebounded and was fouled. He made both free throws for a 60-57 lead with 28 seconds left.
On Pitt's next possession, Carter-Williams intercepted an errant James Robinson pass, and he was fouled with 10 seconds remaining. He made two more free throws to put the game out of reach.
"I didn't knock down the free throw," Zanna said. "That was my fault. I apologized to the team."
Pitt shot 58 percent (11 for 19) from the line, which was worse than what Syracuse shot from 3-point range. Zanna was 2 for 5 from the line. Steven Adams was 2 for 4 and Lamar Patterson 3 for 5.
"I think guys work really hard on free-throw shooting, honestly," Woodall said. "Maybe some guys are overly excited. We have some good free-throw shooters. We definitely have to continue to work on our free throws. That will be key for us to make a deep run [in the NCAA tournament]."
Patterson had his third double-double of the season for the Panthers with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Woodall had 12 points and Zanna and Robinson had 10 apiece. The Panthers shot 37.5 percent for the game and had 12 turnovers and 11 assists.
NOTES -- Pitt grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and outscored Syracuse, 28-14, in the lane. ... The final tally in rebounds was, 40-28, in favor of Pitt. ... Pitt's reserves only had seven points after scoring 31 in the victory against Syracuse Feb. 2. ... Reserve center Dante Taylor received six stitches above his right eye after taking an elbow from a Syracuse player midway through the second half. He only played nine minutes and did not score. ... Trey Zeigler and Cameron Wright also failed to score.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published March 15, 2013 4:00 AM