Pitt’s Michael Young, center, battles for a loose ball against Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson, left, and Michael Gbinije in the first half.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Pitt had been searching for a big win to solidify its NCAA tournament resume, and it might have found it Saturday in a place it has found many big wins in recent years.
Jamel Artis had another huge game against Syracuse to lead the Panthers to a 66-52 ACC win in front of a crowd of 28,696 at Carrier Dome.
Artis had 21 points and 11 rebounds and proved yet again he is a difficult matchup for the Orange, or any team that plays a zone because he is such a good passer and shooter.
He laughed, however, when he was asked if he enjoyed playing against the Orange. He said he actually doesn’t because their zone requires a lot of patience to try to beat.
“I really hate Syracuse and that zone,” Artis said. “I’m just a basketball player, I’m going to play my game and I will take what the defense gives me. But that zone is too stationary, you stand in one spot, but I like to move around and come off screens and stuff.
“I thought we did a good job hitting shots. We know we are going to take 3-pointers against them, there will be long rebounds, and we crashed and crashed well.”
Coach Jamie Dixon said it isn’t a coincidence that Artis, who had 18 points and nine rebounds in a 72-61 win against the Orange Dec. 30 at Petersen Events Center, has big games against Syracuse because he is the key to the Panthers attack against any zone.
He said they work hard to push the ball inside the zone and Artis is excellent at catching the ball and either getting his shot or getting it to an open shooter.
“Jamel was good against the zone,” Dixon said. “He still could have been better, he had too many turnovers [four] and forced some passes, but we are putting a lot on him. We play through him against that zone, often times, I’d say about half of our sets and half of our looks.”
Pitt (19-7, 8-6) improved to 7-2 at the Carrier Dome under Dixon and has beaten the Orange four times in a row — and Dixon’s overall record against Syracuse is 14-6.
Dixon said the Panthers dominance of Syracuse — even on its home court — shouldn’t be a surprise because the Panthers have found a good formula to beat the Orange.
“We’ve been pretty good for a long time, so you have to start there, but we tend to forget that,” Dixon said. “But we work on [Syracuse], we prepare for them and we don’t start the day before the game in preparation for what they do and how they play.
“Also, I think our zone that we play is similar to their zone and we practice against it every day, so it gives us some preparation. Then you have to have some guys make plays and make some shots and certainly that was the case.”
Pitt point guard James Robinson, who played all 40 minutes, scored 13 points and had five assists, said the Panthers’ ability to move the ball and make shots give them an advantage against the Orange zone.
But he said the key in this game was they played excellent defense (the Orange made 37.3 percent of their field-goal attempts and just 27 percent of their 3-point attempts) and won the rebounding battle by a wide margin, 43-23.
Robinson said the Panthers did a great job of executing their defensive game plan, and even though they have owned the Orange in the Carrier Dome, it is never easy to win there.
“We were pretty familiar with the sets they were going to run, so we had some really good practices on the defensive side leading into this game and it was good to see us execute it,” Robinson said. “It is tough to win here. [Pitt’s record at Carrier Dome] doesn’t mean it is easy.”
Sheldon Jeter made a layup, was fouled, and completed the three-point play with 7:39 left to put the Panthers back in the lead, 45-43, but DaJuan Coleman tied it with a dunk at the other end.
But Artis hit a 3-pointer, Chris Jones made two free throws, then Ryan Luther made a baseline jump shot and all of the sudden it was 52-45, Pitt.
That spurt proved to be too much for the Orange as the Panthers rolled to a much-needed big win.
Tyler Lydon led Syracuse (18-10, 8-7) with 21 points.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com and Twitter @paulzeise.
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