Offensive woes rear ugly head late again

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Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis broke Pitt's heart with a running 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer Wednesday that lifted the Orange to a 58-56 win.

And naturally, Ennis' heroics, Pitt's defense and Jamie Dixon's timeout before that final possession have been the focus of much discussion.

But here's a harsh reality -- the Panthers didn't lose on Ennis' shot. They lost because they didn't finish the game offensively.

That inability to execute and score late in the games is a disturbing trend with the Panthers in their tight losses and even in some of their wins.

Ennis shouldn't have had the opportunity to play hero because the game should have already been safely in Pitt's control by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock.

The Panthers had a 54-48 lead with 1:56 to play after a tip-in by Talib Zanna, yet managed just two free throws by Zanna the rest of the way -- and those came with 10 seconds to play after the Panthers already squandered the lead.

A close examination of the Panthers' possessions in the final 4:50 reveals that even before the final two minutes, they spent a lot of time trying to run the clock instead of trying to attack.

And the result was a bunch of bad possessions that resulted in bad shots or decisions as the shot clock ran down, whereas had the Panthers scored one or two baskets, they would have won the game.

"We made plays," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They had opportunities where they could have scored and the game would have been over. They had two tip-ins down there that could have gone in and put the game away."

Boeheim is correct that the Panthers had opportunities down the stretch, but the reality is they didn't give themselves the best chance to score on most of them because they spent so much time running the clock.

Consider the final seven possessions for the Panthers, all in the final 4:50 after they had a 52-48 lead:

* They took possession on a defensive rebound by Jamel Artis with 4:44 to play and ran the shot clock to one second before Josh Newkirk had to launch a 3-pointer that missed with 4:08 to play.

* They took possession on a Trevor Cooney turnover with 3:49 to play and ran 30 seconds off before settling for a long 3-pointer by James Robinson that missed.

* They took possession on a steal by Jamel Artis with 3:13 to play and ran 32 seconds off before Lamar Patterson tried to get to the basket and had the ball stolen.

* They took possession on a defensive rebound with 2:36 to play and had to settle for a long 3-point attempt by Patterson at the end of the shot clock that would have been an airball except Zanna was there to tip it in. This, a miracle tip-in of an errant 3-pointer, was Pitt's only field goal in the final 6:17.

* Syracuse's C.J. Fair scored and Boeheim called a timeout with 1:40 to play. Pitt inbounded the ball and ran the shot clock down to one second before Robinson again had to settle for a long 3-pointer that missed.

* Fair hit a jump shot with 52 seconds left that pulled the Orange within 54-53 and Boeheim used another timeout. The Panthers' possession began with 51 seconds to play and they again ran down the shot clock before Patterson drove and missed a floater in the lane and Pitt missed two opportunities to tip it in.

Those possessions, five of which came up empty and one of which was bailed out by Zanna, were all marked by the same two problems -- most of the time was spent running the clock, and Pitt ended up having to try and take a rushed and tough shot.

Dixon said the Panthers weren't trying to run the clock, but instead were trying to be patient against the Syracuse zone. While that might be true, Pitt has had this tendency for long, empty possessions at the end of games.

"We knew we had to be patient; you are not going to get good shots against that defense early in shot clocks," Dixon said. "We tried to be patient, but obviously we weren't able to convert enough baskets down the stretch. We were up and had two possessions where we didn't score and they scored on both."

Boeheim said Pitt was probably a little too patient down the stretch and that helped the Orange because they were able to force some tough shots at the end of the shot clock.

"That is the way they choose to play against us," Boeheim said. "Duke took a shot every 14 seconds against us when we played. I think [the Panthers] could have got a shot quicker, but that is the way they chose to play it. We're used to that. It is more normal than not.

"But obviously they can get a shot quicker because they got a shot with 10 seconds left in the game."

Those six lost possessions are the ones that hurt the Panthers (20-5, 8-4 ACC), and the same situation has shown up down the stretch in all four of their close losses.

This is something the Panthers need to address in order to win future games, but they don't have much time to do it, as they play another tough one Saturday at North Carolina (16-7, 7-4).

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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