BIG GAME JAMES: Southerland’s rain of 3s buries Pittsburgh comeback attempt as Syracuse advances to Big East semifinals
NEW YORK — James Southerland spent the first half delivering daggers from laughably long distances, turning Madison Square Garden into his personal stage with a performance that left the crowd roaring. By the time Pittsburgh’s defense started limiting his looks, and by the time the Panthers closed the deficit to one, Syracuse’s offense, led by Southerland again, had taken command of the game.
Southerland drained all six of his 3s, including five in the first half, to carry the Orange to a 62-59 win over Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. Southerland broke a Big East tournament record for most made 3s without a miss. Pittsburgh tried to mount a second-half comeback, but couldn’t overcome the lead Southerland helped Syracuse build.
Through its first two games of the tournament, Syracuse’s offense is rolling, and Southerland, who is 12-of-15 from the arc in the last two days, is much of the reason why.
“We just had great ball movement,” head coach Jim Boeheim said of his team’s offense in the first half. “Got the open guys, and James just got, he got good looks, and he made them.”
Those were all the shots he would need. And Southerland’s hot shooting is permeating throughout Syracuse’s lineup.
Southerland hit his first 3-pointer from the left wing about three minutes into the game. C.J. Fair hit one shortly after from the left corner. Then Triche, who missed his first three jumpers, knocked down a 3 from the same spot on a feed from Fair.
Whenever Pittsburgh tried to close the deficit or find some sort of offensive rhythm, Southerland ended it. Talib Zanna hit a free throw to make it 17-15 with just under eight minutes left in the first half. Southerland responded with a long 3 from the top of the key.
His third triple of the game came from about the same spot. It gave Syracuse a 25-15 lead. Pittsburgh’s defense looked nothing like it did when the Panthers beat the Orange by 10 points at the Petersen Events Center back on Feb. 2.
But on that day, they didn’t have to deal with Southerland.
“When I’m shooting the ball, it’s just making sure every shot goes in and I’m really focused, making sure I help my team out as much as possible,” Southerland said. “Even if I happen to miss, just moving around without the ball makes us tougher to guard.”
Southerland would hit two more 3-pointers in the half to continue to build the Orange’s lead. Everything was going right for Syracuse. Even time seemed to slow for the Orange.
As the final second of the first half ticked off the clock, Fair shot a 3 from up top. It bounced on the rim, then fell through the net. The officials reviewed the play to make sure Fair got the shot off before the buzzer. The call stood and Syracuse carried a 40-27 lead into halftime.
“I think it was real big,” Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “It was big for us to get that lead and help us out down the stretch.”
It was help Syracuse would need.
Southerland’s final 3 came on a play he’s perfected. Pittsburgh had almost every Syracuse shooter guarded on the arc. Carter-Williams had no one to dish to. But then Southerland cut to the baseline from the left and came around to the right wing.
As soon as he got there, he took a pass from Carter-Williams and shot a 3 over the outstretched arm of Pittsburgh forward Lamar Patterson to make the score 55-47 Syracuse.
Like the rest of his 3s, it hardly scraped the rim, if it did at all. It was a critical 3 as Pittsburgh had started to close the deficit.
“I thought – you know they’re going to come back,” Boeheim said of the Panthers.
And they did.
The Panthers closed to within four with 3:28 left. Their fans began screaming as Pittsburgh mounted a comeback. A free throw by Tray Woodall and a layup from Talib Zanna made it a one-point game with 31 seconds left. But Carter-Williams hit four free throws in the remaining seconds to preserve SU’s lead.
Syracuse breathed a sigh of relief. A game it once dominated nearly slipped away. Except Southerland had already lit up Pittsburgh’s defense. The Orange had already hit the shots it needed.
Pittsburgh couldn’t overcome them, and it certainly couldn’t shut down Southerland long enough.
Said Southerland: “I just go out and play and make sure I make every shot.”
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