There is nothing strange about Pitt beating Syracuse. That has been happening for most of the past decade when these two Big East powerhouses meet.
It's just that the way the Panthers handed Syracuse its first loss of the season Monday night was, well, strange.
Pitt scored the first 19 points of the game and appeared on the way to a resounding rout, but Syracuse answered with 17 consecutive points of its own. From there, it was an entertaining back-and-forth game befitting a first-place showdown between two of the top-ranked teams in the nation.
When it was over, No. 5 Pitt came away with a 74-66 victory before a record crowd of 12,925 at the Petersen Events Center.
The Panthers have won 13 of the past 16 in the series against Syracuse, ranked No. 3 this week, and five in a row, the longest winning streak for Pitt in the all-time series against the Orange.
Jamie Dixon beat Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim for the ninth time in 11 career meetings, and prevented Boeheim and the Orange from tying a school record for most victories to start a season.
More important, the victory gave the Panthers sole possession of first place in the conference standings this morning. The Panthers are 6-0 for the first time in Big East play and sent a statement to the rest of the league with their performance against the previously undefeated Orange.
"Ever since the Tennessee game, we've been on a mission to prove what type of team we are," senior forward Gilbert Brown said.
Junior power forward Nasir Robinson led the Panthers with 21 points. Brad Wanamaker added 15, Gilbert Brown 12 and Ashton Gibbs 11.
The Panthers shot 48 percent from the field while holding Syracuse to 39 percent. They also won the battle of the backboards, 44-30, and scored 32 points in the lane.
Syracuse was led by C.J. Fair's 16 points, but the Orange did not shoot well, hitting on only 39 percent of its shots from the field.
The first half was one of the strangest of the college basketball season. After the 19-0 run that was followed by the 17-0 run, Pitt ripped off the next seven. And then, as if on cue, Syracuse answered with a 7-0 run of its own.
Pitt took a 31-27 lead into halftime thanks to a Gibbs 3-pointer with three seconds remaining.
In the second half, Syracuse tied the score at 41-41 when James Southerland made a 3-pointer from the corner with 13:49 remaining.
"We made about as good of a comeback as you can make," Boeheim said.
The momentum appeared to be changing hands. But the momentum shift short-lived. Travon Woodall made a 3-pointer 16 seconds later, and Pitt held the lead for the rest of the game although there were some tense moments.
Syracuse had four opportunities to take the lead, but failed to score each time. Southerland had a great chance to give Syracuse its first lead when he was in alone for an apparent layup, but Talib Zanna came out of nowhere to pin his shot against the backboard.
The big block ignited an 9-1 run that gave the Panthers a 53-44 lead with 10:49 remaining. The closest Syracuse could get after that was four points with 7:03 left, but Pitt scored the next eight points to put the game out of reach.
"Talib came in and played great," Brown said. "That sparked us. We caught fire on the offensive end. That really changed the momentum of the game."
Robinson was good from start to finish. He scored the first nine points of the game to jump-start the offense and did not slow down in the second half. He was 8 for 12 from the field and added eight rebounds.
"Coach stressed getting inside touches all week," Robinson said.
Robinson got into the middle of Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense and got some easy buckets early. Over and over again, the undersized Robinson neatly maneuvered around the basket and created good shooting angles against Syracuse's tall frontline.
"When Nas waits for his shots he's very effective," Dixon said.
NOTE -- Dixon was called for his first technical foul of the season with 7:03 remaining. The ensuing two free throws trimmed Syracuse's deficit to four, but Pitt scored the next eight points to restore order.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.