PITTIFUL: Shorthanded, outrebounded Syracuse falls 65-55 at Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Brandon Triche leaned up against the concrete wall in the visitor’s locker room, running through each of the 3-pointers he missed in a loss at Pittsburgh. He estimated that he took about eight or nine attempts from beyond the arc, only three of which he was “capable of making.”
The rest were forced shots. An air ball with 54 seconds remaining and another he tried to convert to a pass at the last moment came to mind.
He asked to see the stat sheet, which revealed only five attempts from behind the 3-point line. Not eight or nine like he surmised. Still, they were all misses.
“Only five? Oh, that’s not bad then,” Triche said with a sarcastic laugh. “I thought I was 0-for-10.”
That’s how it felt for Triche in Syracuse’s 65-55 loss Saturday to unranked Pittsburgh (18-5, 6-4 Big East) at the Petersen Events Center, a game in which he finished with 14 points but needed 14 shots to get them. He and Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse’s other starting guard, struggled against the tenacious man-to-man defense from the Panthers all game long. And on an afternoon where the No. 6 Orange (18-3, 6-2 Big East) was down to seven scholarship players and three capable scorers, it failed to overcome the poor performances of its two backcourt stars.
Syracuse was without James Southerland, its third-leading scorer, for the fifth consecutive game Saturday, and freshman DaJuan Coleman was unavailable after having knee surgery early in the week.
Their absences heaped more pressure onto the trio of Triche, Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair to score points and avoid fouls, a difficult task against a Pittsburgh team that leads the Big East in scoring defense. For weeks SU head coach Jim Boeheim has said those three players must produce consistently in order for his team to win, and two of them did not Saturday.
“C.J. had a good game, and our two guards had bad offensive games,” Boeheim said. “We need them to score. We can’t go to Jerami (Grant), we can’t go to Baye (Moussa Keita) or (Rakeem Christmas). They’re not going to be a factor offensively unless it’s on the offensive glass.”
And though Triche and Carter-Williams combined to score 27 points, they needed 26 shots to do so and missed all but one of their 10 attempts from 3-point range. They sprinkled in nine turnovers as well.
It meant Fair was the only SU bright spot offensively, and he scored a game-high 20 points. But he lacked the support needed to combat a 10-man Pittsburgh rotation that was the epitome of balance. Nine players scored four or more points for the Panthers, and only guard Trey Woodall (13 points) reached double figures.
For Syracuse, only five players scored.
“We missed a lot of shots,” Carter-Williams said. “I was 3-for-12, Brandon didn’t shoot the ball great. If me and him don’t shoot the ball good, then we’re not going to win. If you look at the games we’ve lost, I shot like 20 percent or something like that. If I don’t shoot the ball well, we’re not going to win.”
That’s because, as Boeheim alluded to, the rest of the Syracuse players simply cannot be counted on to score. Keita, Grant, Cooney and Christmas managed just eight points between them, and there was not a single post-up attempt for either of the two big men.
Triche said roughly four set plays were called for Christmas throughout the game, all of which were bungled before Christmas had a chance to touch the ball.
It created an offense that was, essentially, three against five. Fair, Carter-Williams and Triche were left to drive — often hopelessly with the shot clock winding down — and fling up shot attempts simply because no one else could.
Fair finished 9-for-13 from the field and played incredibly well. But after Triche tied the game at 35-35 with a driving layup against Trey Zeigler, Triche and Carter-Williams shot 1-for-8 in the final 12:36 of the game.
“A game like this, I probably needed to play really good and I didn’t,” Triche said. “It’s going to be me, Mike and C.J. scoring for the most part. Jerami is going to be there, but other than that we have guys who are inexperienced or not capable of scoring by themselves.”
It left Triche pondering — as he put on a Syracuse ski hat to prepare for a disappointing flight home — ways his team could generate more offense without arguably its best shooter and its starting center. He’d seen the stats, and they were ugly. He’d missed shots, and there were plenty.
But he still couldn’t put his finger on how to fix the problem, couldn’t think of a way to right the ship that is beginning to teeter in the thick of Big East play.
“I don’t know,” Triche said. “Honestly.”
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